Rams claim 18th straight conference water polo title

Rockford defeated Grand Haven last Monday, Oct. 11, in an OK conference boys water polo match. The Rams are now a perfect 7-0 in the conference with one only more game to play. And, because undefeated Jenison was upset by Grandville last week, the Rams are guaranteed at least a share of the conference title.

Junior Nathan Napolillo leads the Rams to victory over Grand Haven. Photo by TRACY BROWN

Rockford (31-6 overall) has now won or shared the title for an amazing 18 years in a row! To put that in perspective, the last time someone other than the Rams won the OK conference was 1992, the year a little-known Arkansas Governor named Bill Clinton was running for president against George H.W. Bush.

Dave McWatters, now in his 13th year as head coach of the Rams, has built an impressive program that consistently produces strong teams.

“We strive to be in the thick of things every year,” said McWatters. “Other teams seem to rise and fall based on a good class or two moving through. But we’ve tried to build a foundation that allows us to be competitive year in and year out.”

Sophomore Nick Willison fires a shot past the defender. Photo by TRACY BROWN

The Grand Haven game illustrated McWatters’ point. The Buccaneers were regional champions last year, but have struggled to perform at the same level this year, having lost their top players to graduation.

The Bucs came to town Monday night and were able to keep the game close in the first period, but the Rams’ depth and strength was simply too much for them. Rockford rolled to a 15-4 victory.

The Rams’ balance was on display—seven different players scored goals, nine contributed assists, and 15 Rams combined for 32 steals. Junior Nathan Napolillo led the way with a tremendous all-around effort: five goals, two assists, and five steals.

Rockford now hosts Jenison (6-1 in the conference) in the final regular season game of the year on Tuesday, Oct. 19. A Jenison win would give the Wildcats a share of the conference title. But a Rockford win would make the Rams the outright champs.

Junior Cody Brown passes

“Jenison beat us in a tournament early in the year,” recalled junior Alex Savage. “Ever since then, we’ve been looking forward to facing them in our pool in this final game of the season.”

According to McWatters, “Everything in recent weeks has been building toward this game. It’s our Senior Night, and we’ll be playing for the conference championship. We need no greater motivation.”

“Senior Night is a big deal for the polo team,” noted Savage. “Players look forward to it for four years. There’s no way we’re going to let the Wildcats spoil the night for our seniors.”

Whether the Rams end up with an outright or a shared championship, there will be little time for celebration. The postseason begins Friday night,

Oct. 22, when Rockford High School will host the Michigan Water Polo Association West Region district championships. All the polo teams from West Michigan will be in Rockford vying for a spot in the West Regional championships, to be held October 29-30 at East Kentwood.

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