Rams capture third in state in women’s water polo

When the Rockford women’s water polo team fell 5-7 to Hudsonville in a physical back-and-forth battle for the west regional championship on May 22, the team knew their road to the state title would be increasingly more difficult. The Lady Rams’ second seed placed them in a bracket with undefeated and state champion favorite Okemos and set them up for a tough round-one game against Ann Arbor Huron, a team they had not faced all season.

Rather than intimidate the Rams, their daunting task fired them up. This young team with only five seniors had improved significantly all season, and their goal was to bring their “A game” and step up their defense—a weapon of which coaches throughout the state had taken notice.

Round one Friday night, June 4, against the Huron River Rats kept the huge crowd packed in the Saline natatorium on the edge of their bleachers. The score went back and forth throughout the entire game, with the Rams down by two with seconds ticking off to end the first half until a mid pool shot brought them to 6-7. In the second half, the Lady Rams picked up their defensive effort, and held Huron scoreless in the third quarter, while scoring two.

As the fourth quarter advanced, the Rams poured on the offense, with sophomore Casey Wolfer finding the back of the cage four times. With a two-goal lead with 2:59 left on the clock, victory was within their grasp.

The River Rats weren’t ready to quit, and quickly scored another goal. With just seconds on the clock, they stole the ball in front of the Rams’ goal and nearly landed a game-tying goal. Junior goalie Tiffany Elenbaas would have nothing of it and finished the game, securing 12 saves, two critical steals and one assist.

Wolfer led the team in scoring with a career high seven goals and one assist. Offense also came from Christina Weston (two goals, one assist), Natalie Beeg (one goal, three assists), Ashley Gremel (one goal, three assists), and Holly Nauta (one goal). Junior Erica Finlayson also had a critical assist.

The Rams’ Friday night victory paired them up against the undefeated Okemos Chiefs Saturday morning. Beeg, Nauta and Wolfer found the net in the first quarter to keep the game close at 3-4.

In the second quarter, the Chiefs took advantage of the Rams’ backed-off defense and scored three quick goals to pull ahead. The Rams readjusted, and Wolfer found the net to end the first half 4-7.

In the third quarter, Wolfer and Weston scored to close the gap to 6-8. Unfortunately, Okemos’ size, speed and impressive shooting were too much for the Lady Rams, and they fell to the eventual state champions 6-11.

The Rams defensive effort did not go unnoticed, however. Their team total 20 steals gave Okemos one of their toughest games all season.

With a loss, the Rams were then paired to take on the loser of the Hudsonville-Saline game. Saline, the 2009 state runner-up, had their hands full, and were down by two goals in the fourth quarter. It appeared the Rams would be playing for third or fourth place against the Hornets. However, Saline rallied late and defeated the Eagles, setting the stage for a rematch with Hudsonville. The Rams had fallen to the Eagles in their three prior match-ups this season.

From the first ball drop, it was clear the Lady Rams came to play. Their lockdown defense had never looked better. Hudsonville’s All-State big guns did not have an opportunity to shoot. Elenbaas was nearly impenetrable in the net, with seven saves and three key steals.

The Rams led 3-0 at the half, and allowed only one goal in the second to beat the Eagles 4-1. Goals came from Weston, Wolfer, junior Taylor Downs, and Gremel through the first three quarters. The fourth quarter was a battle of defense, with neither team scoring.

Head Coach Scott Voltz noted, “We’ve preached defense from the first day of practice and our number one priority has been defense. The girls put it together at the right time and it was a great team effort.”

Special recognition goes to Wolfer for making First Team All-State Tournament and to Weston for making Second Team All-State Tournament. The coaches also voted Wolfer and Gremel to the All-State Second Team based on their season performances.

With 11 juniors and some very impressive underclassmen talent, next year is sure to be a great season.

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