The Rockford girls varsity water polo team won the Michigan Water Polo Association West Region title on Saturday, May 21, defeating East Kentwood by a score of 8-6. The two teams met in a rematch of last week’s district final, which Rockford also won. But, unlike last week’s lopsided win by the Rams, this time a stubborn East Kentwood team brought their A game and challenged the Rams until the bitter end.
The weekend tournament, hosted by the Rams, began with Rockford taking on West Ottawa in the quarterfinals. The Rams handed the Panthers a 10-4 defeat in the opener. Rockford junior Casey Wolfer led the offense with four goals, and sophomore Adrianna Craft had three. Senior Jamie VanPortfliet tossed in two and senior Taylor Downs added one goal to complete the total. Wolfer also led the defensive attack with five steals, and VanPortfliet topped the assist column with four. Senior goalie Tiffany Elenbaas had six saves in the game.
Saturday morning, the Rams took on a feisty East Grand Rapids (EGR) team in a low-scoring defensive dual that eventually saw Rockford on the winning end, scoring five goals to EGR’s two. Senior Brandy Fase started the scoring with a solo shot into the net, giving the Rams a 1-0 lead after one quarter of play. EGR managed two goals in the second period, but Wolfer and senior Lauren Hulsebus scored two goals apiece before the end of the contest and sent the Pioneers into the consolation final game later in the day. Craft turned on a defensive display and had five steals in the game. Downs, Fase and VanPortfliet had four steals apiece to help shut down the Pioneer offense. Elenbaas added seven saves.
The final game against East Kentwood had the packed Rockford natatorium on the edge of their seats the entire contest. Having been beaten a week earlier by the Rams, the Falcons of East Kentwood were on a mission for a regional title.
The Rams jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead and the game seemed to already be in control for the host team. Wolfer put the first two goals in with assists by VanPortfliet and Downs. Then Craft put the third one on the board to end the quarter.
The second stanza saw East Kentwood finding the back of the net four times to Rockford’s two. Wolfer added another goal to her game-high five, and Hulsebus launched a buzzer beater into the Falcon net from half the length of the pool to bring the crowd to their feet, ending the half 5-4 in favor of the Rams.
Late in the third quarter, East Kentwood tied the score at five. Hulsebus gave the Rams the narrow lead once again with a goal at the end of the third.
The final quarter of the nail-biter saw Wolfer shred the net on a VanPortfliet assist and the Rams were up by two. But the Falcons were not about to roll over and die, scoring another goal with plenty of time remaining.
Both defenses kicked in while the Rams sweated out a one-goal lead with time ticking down. Downs put the final nail in the East Kentwood coffin by battling for the ball with the East Kentwood goalie and winning the wrestling match with a lob into the net, putting the Rams up by two for good.
Downs and Craft led the game in assists with two each, while Wolfer and Hulsebus each added three steals. Elenbaas was steady in the net once again with six saves.
Rockford Coach Scott Voltz gave credit to his team as well as East Kentwood. “We had some difficulties in the pool today. But when you have some rough spots and still come out on top, that shows you the tenacity of this year’s team. Hey, a win is a win. Credit goes out to East Kentwood. They saw us last week and made some adjustments to their game, which gave us fits. But our girls responded and just wouldn’t give up. They wanted this game just a little bit more.”
Five Rockford players were honored at the end of the finals by making the West All Region team. Lauren Hulsebus and Brandy Fase made the Honorable Mention All Region team. Adrianna Craft and Tiffany Elenbaas were Second Team honorees, and Casey Wolfer was named First Team All Region.
The Rams now head to the state tournament next weekend, June 3-4, in Zeeland.