“I expect them to play for and win the gold medal.”
U-M water polo coach Matt Anderson predicts victory for the U.S. women in the Summer Olympics in London, where water polo competition starts July 30. “We should be and we are the favorite, because we’re the best women’s water polo nation in the world right now,” Anderson says. “And the large reason for that is Betsey [Armstrong].”
Armstrong, a six-foot-one Ann Arbor native, “was made to play goalie,” says Anderson, who coached her at Michigan. “She’s intimidating because of her size–agile, quick, and able to cover a large amount of space. She also has the composure you want in a goalie. No matter what happens, she’s able to bounce back strong.”
In a phone interview, Armstrong recalls that she followed her older sister, Katy, into both the sport and the position: “She was a goalie, and she was really good at it.” But after graduating from the U-M in 2005 with a degree in English, she took time off from competition.
“It was a year of self-discovery for her,” says her father, Tom Armstrong, a professor of industrial operations and biomechanics in the U-M engineering school. “She was a little burned out on water polo. She worked at the Red Hawk and Espresso Royale, and that got her away from water polo and academic pressures.”
“I really enjoyed my time at both places,” Armstrong emails from London. “It was challenging to do something so different and new, but I made some really great friends.” She also decided to try out for the Olympic team–because, she says, “I didn’t want to think ‘what if’ down the road.” With Armstrong in goal, the U.S. women took the silver medal in Beijing in 2008, and earned their spot in London with a hard-won victory in the Pan Am Games last fall. “It was an eight-team tournament, and it was a nail-biter every game,” Armstrong says.
Her former coach says Armstrong is as good a person as she is a goalie. “She’s kind and has a very positive outlook on the human spirit,” says Anderson. “Other players on the team play hard defense for her because they like her as a person.”
Her parents say nearly the same thing. “There’s been a lot of focus on Betsey’s achievements,” says her father, “and she’s done very well. But she’s [also] a very caring person.”
“It seems so high-flying to be part of the Olympic team,” says her mother, Mary, a homemaker. “But it means getting up early and working so hard all day, and then getting up and doing it again the next day, and the day after that and the day after that. It’s humbling to see how much work goes into it.”
Even if the U.S. women fulfill Anderson’s prediction and win the gold medal, they won’t ever make a living from their sport. “You can go play in Europe and play for a season or two, but there really isn’t a career in water polo,” Armstrong explains. After the games, “I could go into the health field, or be a gym teacher, or get an MBA, or maybe a career as a writer.”
Whatever Armstrong does, her U-M coach believes he knows where she’ll do it. “She’s an Ann Arbor girl through and through,” Anderson says. “Anybody who knows her knows she’s coming back to Ann Arbor.”