Rockford boys water polo prepares to defend state title

Boys water polo season is underway, and Rockford is off to a solid start with an 8-1 record. The Rams won a tournament hosted by East Lansing the weekend of August 19-20, and finished second in their own tournament the weekend of August 26-27.

Senior captain Alex Savage fires a shot while junior Justin Hulsebus looks on.

At the East Lansing tournament, the Rams defeated Ann Arbor Skyline and three top teams from Ohio (Columbus St. Charles, Toledo St. Francis, and Upper Arlington). At their own tournament, Rockford defeated Okemos, Jenison, Birmingham Seaholm, and Ann Arbor Pioneer, before losing to the River Rats of Ann Arbor Huron in the finals.

This early season success isn’t necessarily a surprise. Having lost only four graduating seniors from the team that won the last two state championships, the Rams are expected to be a very good team this year. But those high expectations bring with them some additional challenges.

“Every team will play their best against us,” assured Coach Dave McWatters. “We’ll be working this year to develop the mental toughness required of a team that everyone is aiming for.”

Senior captain Alex Savage thinks the team is ready for the challenge. “We don’t mind having a target on our backs,” he said, “because the pressure will force us to become a better team. We want to become a strong team—a relentless team—that plays aggressively on both offense and defense.”

Senior captain Eric Chisholm plays relentless Rockford defense.

Rockford’s other senior captain, All-American Eric Chisholm, hopes the team develops a solid reputation around the state. “We want to be known as a team that never gives up or slows down, that keeps attacking, and that always plays aggressively,” he said.

One of the team’s greatest assets this year is its tremendous depth. With a full varsity roster of 20 experienced players, the Rams will often be able to enter two teams in weekend tournaments in order to give more players quality playing time.

Coach McWatters said, “I’m thankful to the school administration for the support that allows us to develop depth by entering multiple teams in top tournaments against the best teams. We’re benefiting this year from all the playing time the boys received last year.”

Chisholm added, “Our depth is really helpful because whenever the starters need rest we can put in another wave of players that we know will hold the other team down.”

Senior captain Alex Savage rises up to fire a shot.
Rockford water polo senior captains, Eric Chisholm (shooting) and Alex Savage (background) are preparing for a challenging season.

Savage noted, “We’ve had a lot of depth for the past two years, but this year is different. It hardly matters which six guys are in the pool—everyone knows how to play.”

Coach McWatters enters his 14th year as head coach of the Rams. He has built what many would consider a dynasty: seven state championships in the past eight years, and eight in the past 11. A member of the Rockford Athletic Hall of Fame, he has learned to take nothing for granted.

“Success at the conference, district, regional and state level will come down to which team improves the most over the course of the year. If we work hard to improve as a team from week to week throughout the year, we should be very competitive in the conference and in the postseason,” McWatters said.

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