Rockford moves on to defend state title
The Rockford boys water polo team claimed second place in the Michigan Water Polo Association (MWPA) West Regional championship held at East Kentwood High School last weekend. The Rams now move on to the MWPA state tournament, where they will need three wins against top opponents to repeat as state champions.
Four Rams received All Region honors. Junior Bryan Wasberg received honorable mention, while junior Eric Chisholm, senior Jeff Schmitt and senior Pat Fase were named First Team All Region.
Rockford opened the tournament Friday afternoon, Oct. 29, by trouncing an overmatched West Ottawa club 18-4. Ten different Rams scored goals, led by freshman Craig Wasberg with three. Rockford’s team defense, with junior Allyn Kinney leading the way, smothered the Panthers.
Saturday morning, Oct. 30, the Rams faced Jenison in the semifinals. In a game eerily similar to their district match from a week earlier, the Rams once again found themselves up 4-3 in the waning moments of the first half. The Wildcats lined up for a penalty shot with just 35 seconds left in the half, but Ram goalie Pat Fase made the stop to preserve Rockford’s lead.
Jenison didn’t threaten again. The Rams added two third-period goals and rode their defensive strength to a 6-3 victory. B. Wasberg and Jeff Schmitt led the scoring with two goals apiece. Wasberg and Chisholm each made three steals on defense.
“Stopping a penalty shot involves a little luck,” admitted Fase after the game. “As the shooter wound up, I sensed he was aiming to my right. I just dove that way and was able to get a hand on the ball. If they had scored there, they would have had a lot of momentum going into the half, and it probably would have been a different game.”
The regional finals provided a rematch of the district finals, with the Rams facing familiar foe East Kentwood, but this time in the Falcons’ pool. After a few tense, scoreless minutes, Chisholm took a pass from junior Alex Savage and found the back of the net to give the Rams a 1-0 lead. The Falcons answered immediately, however, setting the tone for a see-saw first half that ended with Rockford clinging to a 4-3 lead.
Chisholm scored again in the third period, and the Rams entered the fourth period with a 5-3 lead. The Rockford faithful hoped the Rams’ trademark defense could now preserve the victory. But Falcon senior Joshua Jackson, the tournament MVP, had other plans. Playing in his final high school home game, Jackson put on a memorable show. He scored twice to knot the score at 5-5. After Rockford junior Mac Finnie restored the Rams’ lead, Jackson worked more of his magic. He scored two more goals to give the Falcons a 7-6 lead, and the Kentwood defense sealed the win.
“It was a great game of polo between two great teams,” concluded Rockford Coach Dave McWatters. “Unfortunately, we came out on the short end of the score. The question now becomes: ‘What do we do in the next two weeks to get ready for state?’ Will we come back in two weeks stronger and wiser?”
Team captains Schmitt and Fase think so: “We’ll use this loss as motivation for state. We don’t want to feel the pain of losing again!”
The Rams begin defense of their state title Friday, Nov. 12, at 7:45 p.m., when they face perennial eastside power Ann Arbor Pioneer in a first-round game at Zeeland West High School.