Rockford High School hosted the Michigan Water Polo Association (MWPA) West Region district championships last weekend, and the Rams emerged as West Region East District champs for the seventh straight year. Rockford has not lost a district game since the current postseason format was adopted by the MWPA in 2004.
The week began with Jenison visiting Rockford to play for the OK conference championship on Senior Night. Four Ram seniors, Pat Fase, Jared Martella, Jeff Schmitt and exchange student Victor Lima, were honored on this festive night. A highlight of the evening was a stirring a cappella rendition of the national anthem by junior goalie Matt Vermeer.
The Wildcats came to town looking for a win and a share of the conference title.
“We wanted to come out and play our best,” recalled Schmitt, “because we didn’t want to share the conference title with Jenison. I was especially pumped up knowing this was my last regular season home game.”
Schmitt’s energy resulted in two quick goals as Rockford sprinted to a 3-1 first period lead. Jenison closed the gap to 4-3 late in the second period before Schmitt and junior Eric Chisholm each scored in the final minute of the period to give the Rams a 6-3 halftime lead.
But the game was too close for comfort, according to Schmitt. “We knew we needed to step it up in the second half, to focus on doing what we do best, and to have fun doing it.”
Schmitt’s formula produced the desired results. The Rams exploded for six goals in the third quarter en route to a 14-3 victory and the outright conference championship—their 18th title in a row. Schmitt led all scorers with five goals; sophomore Nick Willison made five steals.
The district tournament brought all West Michigan teams to Rockford High School for the weekend. Despite a sluggish start to their first game, the host Rams used their depth and strength to overpower East Grand Rapids 11-1. Junior Alex Savage led a stifling defensive effort, while Chisholm scored four goals.
The district finals found the Rams facing rival East Kentwood in a game featuring the two best goalies in Michigan, Rockford senior Pat Fase and Kentwood junior Raheem Brown. Both teams came out playing tough field defense backed by outstanding goalie play. Chisholm scored the only goal of a tense first period, giving the Rams a 1-0 lead.
“Coming into the game, we were a little anxious,” admitted Fase, “because we know how good Kentwood can be. To succeed against Raheem, we have to play our best offense and move the ball well. But once we scored the first goal, I had the feeling we would be able to get the win.”
Chisholm scored two more goals in the second period, but was matched by Kentwood, giving the Rams a 3-2 halftime lead.
Once again the third period proved pivotal for Rockford. Chisholm scored his fourth goal of the game on a pass from junior Bryan Wasberg. The next time down the pool, Wasberg scored off an assist from Savage. Schmitt then joined the act, scoring twice to put the game out of reach. The Rams finished with a 7-3 win and their seventh straight district trophy. Fase won this showdown of top goalies by making 22 saves.
“We’re proud of our historic achievements,” noted Coach Dave McWatters, “but we try to keep the focus on the present. I told the boys to enjoy the conference and district titles this weekend, but Monday we need to start working toward our next goal: the regional championship.”