Coming into this season, many water polo teams were hoping this was their year to “beat Rockford.” Well, Rockford men’s water polo has put those teams on notice that it will not be easy.
The Rams water polo teams opened their conference season this past Monday by beating Zeeland 14-5.
“Zeeland is a bigger, faster team,” said Rockford varsity coach Dave McWatters, “so we knew we had to play smart and tough.”
Rockford showed great team balance in their scoring, with seniors Tyler Augustine and Andrew Sakala each scoring three, along with juniors Tyler Manikowski and Connor Thelen. Junior Derik Bothma led the defensive effort with six steals.
Rockford returned to Zeeland Friday and Saturday for the “Birdhouse Bash” Invitational, competing against most of the top west regional teams. Opening with an easy win over Zeeland “B” 12-4, Rockford then dominated Hudsonville (10-2) and West Ottawa (9-0) with tremendous team defense.
“Everyone has their role to play defensively; everyone is responsible for helping their team,” explained McWatters.
Those wins propelled the Rams into the championship finals against Grandville—certainly the tallest, and perhaps fastest, team in the state. Rockford opened with a 4-0 lead, with Augustine, Manikowski, Sakala and Jordan Sikkema scoring.
But Grandville roared back and Rockford led only 5-3 at the half.
“We became predictable,” said McWatters. “At halftime we talked about how we had to show different looks and challenge Grandville’s defense in different ways.”
The adjustment certainly worked, as the Rams outscored the Bulldogs 7-1 in the second half for a 12-3 final.
Senior goalie and captain Nate McLean was key, with great positioning and anticipation, making crucial saves to fend off Grandville’s attempted comeback. Senior captain Andy Huizen contributed three important assists during Rockford’s scoring spree.
Rockford water polo is now 14-0, off to a fantastic start.
McWatters commented, “We have many tough games ahead and we know everyone plays their best against us. We are certainly thankful to be 14-0, but we will not become complacent. We will work harder and smarter than ever.”
Rockford faces Grandville and West Ottawa for home conference meets this week, and then travels to East Kentwood for a very challenging weekend tournament against a number of other top teams in the state. Next Monday, Sept. 22, Rockford hosts Jenison for a conference clash, with 6:00 j.v. and 7:00 varsity start times.