Rockford topped East Kentwood 7-6 last Wednesday, Sept. 29, in a key conference clash that keeps the Rams on pace for their 18th consecutive conference title. This big win over a top rival was also the 500th victory in the storied career of Rockford Coach Dave McWatters.
East Kentwood gave the visiting Rams all they could handle, battling from the opening whistle to the final possession. Rockford junior Bryan Wasberg opened the scoring with a sizzling shot from the wing. The Falcons responded with two goals before Wasberg found sophomore teammate Nick Willison open just before the end of the first period. Willison beat the Falcon goalie to even the contest at 2-2.
Kentwood outpaced Rockford in the second period, and took a 4-3 lead into halftime. The Rams answered in the third period with a brilliant effort. Smothering team defense completely shut down the Falcons. On the offensive end, freshman Craig Wasberg and senior Jeff Schmitt scored goals, giving Rockford a 5-4 lead heading into the fourth period.
That’s when junior Eric Chisholm, who had been fighting for inside scoring position all night, finally found a way to break loose. He scored the first goal of the fourth quarter, giving the Rams a 6-4 cushion. But with the game winding down, East Kentwood battled back, closing the gap to 6-5. Would they be able to ride their home pool advantage to victory? Not this night. Just 15 seconds later, Chisholm notched his third goal of the game, pushing the lead to 7-5.
East Kentwood scored again with one minute left in the game to pull within a single goal. But that was as close as they would come. With 25 seconds left, the Falcons’ leading scorer had the ball right in front of the Rockford net. But Schmitt and fellow senior goalie Pat Fase combined to make the defensive stop and save the game.
“We’re focused on winning the conference this year, and it feels great to beat a strong Kentwood team in their own pool,” said Chisholm. “When we were down 4-3 at the half, we felt like we were still in the game. We’ve been down before and have been able to come back, so we knew we could do it again.”
The win was especially sweet for McWatters, now in his 13th year as head coach. His remarkable career win-loss record is 500-66-2, making him the winningest coach in the history of Michigan water polo. “I am thankful and honored to have coached so many fine athletes over the years,” McWatters reflected. “It has taken a lot of hard work and we have faced many challenges together, but we believe in what we do. Water polo combines the best of all the other sports. It becomes part of your soul: the self-discipline, the determination, the drive to excellence. The athletes take these things with them for the rest of their lives.”
The Rams continue their pursuit of the conference title this week with road games at Hudsonville and East Grand Rapids. Their record now stands at 23-6 overall, 4-0 in the conference.