Rockford claimed third place in the Michigan Water Polo Association (MWPA) West Region Championships on Halloween weekend, qualifying them to play for the state championship. The Rams are one of the final eight teams—four from each side of the state—who will battle November 13-14 at Seaholm High School in Birmingham for the state championship.
The Rams entered the West Region tournament at East Kentwood as a district champion and top seed. Winning their first game, a 15-3 romp over Zeeland, put them in the semifinals and guaranteed their place in the state tournament.
“We accomplished our primary goal of qualifying for state,” noted Coach Dave McWatters, “but then we faced two very tough games. Any of the four semifinalists in our region could be the eventual state champion.”
The first Saturday semifinal match pitted Rockford against a very strong East Kentwood squad. The Falcons kept the Rams off balance for most of the game, pulling away in the third period and holding on for a 5-2 victory.
“We didn’t perform the way we’re capable of performing,” McWatters summed up, “and we were outplayed by a very good team.”
The final challenge for the Rams was to regroup and take on the Grandville Bulldogs in the consolation match. The Rams scored three early goals, but Grandville answered each time. Grandville then pulled ahead in the second period and carried a two-goal lead into the fourth period. That’s when Rockford senior Derik Bothma put on a performance for the ages.
“I took it personally,” said Bothma. “I didn’t want to see our team lose another game, and wanted to do everything I could to help us avoid that.”
Bothma first found junior Jeff Schmitt open in front of the net for a goal that pulled the Rams within one and gave the team some much-needed hope. He then went on a scoring tear, putting the Rams ahead for good with a trio of spectacular shots.
Rockford ended up on top 10-7. Bothma finished with five goals, and fellow senior Connor Thelen added two. In addition to a goal, Schmitt chipped in with four assists.
Three Rams were honored at the end of the tournament. Junior Pat Fase and senior Kyle Peterson were named All Region second team. Bothma was named All Region first team.
“We had an up-and-down weekend,” concluded Thelen, “but we ended strong. Now we want to carry that momentum on to state.”