Rockford water polo opens conference play with win

Rockford’s boys water polo team began defense of their OK conference crown last Wednesday, Sept. 15, with a convincing win over Zeeland. The Rams have won or shared the conference championship for the past 17 years, longer than most of this year’s players have been alive!

Ram defenders Bryan Wasberg (#4), Justin Hulsebus (#20) and Pat Fase (#1) converge on the top scorer in the state, David Hasegan of Ann Arbor Huron. photo by TRACY BROWN

The team traveled to Zeeland to square off against a strong, fast, senior-led Zeeland squad, who was ranked eighth in the state. After a slow first quarter, Rockford opened the second with two quick goals. The Rams pushed the score to 5-2 at the half and held on for a 7-4 victory.

Senior captain Jeff Schmitt set the defensive tone, recording four of the team’s 19 steals. Juniors Bryan Wasberg and Eric Chisholm led the scoring with two goals each.

“I was very pleased with our team’s performance,” said Coach Dave McWatters. “We practiced hard the two days before the game, preparing for our long-term goals, so we were very tired for the Zeeland game. Zeeland is a very talented team, but we were able to tough out the win under challenging circumstances—another step forward.”

“Going into the game, we knew we had to focus on doing what we do best,” said Schmitt. “We feel good about the way we played and about the results.”

Over the weekend, Sept. 17-18, Rockford entered East Kentwood’s Falcon Invite, which found them in a bracket that featured four of the top five teams in the state. Friday night, Rockford—ranked second in the state—renewed their rivalry against East Kentwood—ranked fourth in the state. Rockford scored early and often, and displayed a suffocating defense. The result was an impressive 10-4 Ram victory. Ball movement was a key to the Ram scoring, with their 10 goals—including three each by Schmitt and Chisholm—coming on eight assists, including four by Wasberg.

Junior Eric Chisholm rises up for a shot against conference rival Jenison. Photo by TRACY BROWN

“We really wanted to beat East Kentwood this week, and were able to do so with a total team effort,” noted Schmitt.

Saturday morning found the top two teams in the state, undefeated Ann Arbor Huron and Rockford, locked up in a nail-biter. The teams were tied at the half, but Huron opened the second half with two goals. Rockford responded with three of their own, and carried a 6-5 advantage into the fourth quarter. But Huron—led by David Hasegan, the top scorer in the state—finally cracked the Rockford defense. Two quick goals gave the River Rats a lead they would not surrender. They turned up their defensive intensity and emerged with an 8-6 victory, and their top ranking intact.

Saturday afternoon, games against Jenison—ranked fifth in the state—and Okemos produced two more wins. Having faced four of the top ten teams in the state during the week, Rockford finished with four wins and one loss, pushing their season record to 14-4.

Conference play continues this week with games at home against Grandville and West Ottawa.

Junior Alex Savage passes the ball to an open teammate. Photo by TRACY BROWN

“We have been very successful over the years in conference play,” concluded Coach McWatters, “but each year has been very hard-fought. We don’t aim directly for the championship. Rather, we try to play each game as best we can, focusing on the competition we face day-to-day, and hopefully we’re successful over the course of the season.”

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