The Rockford men’s water polo team opened its eagerly anticipate 2012 season at home, August 17-18, by winning the Rockford Invitational tournament. Rockford fielded two teams and competed against six other teams from around the state.
Rockford Orange went 5-0, defeating Okemos, Ann Arbor Skyline, Dexter and Ann Arbor Pioneer and then clinched the tournament, defeating Jenison in the championship game 7-2. Senior leadership paced the Rams. Nick Willison sparked the team with his all round play, scoring 15 while tallying 11 assists. Grant Beach led the scoring for the tournament with 18 goals. Goalie Cory Fase had 39 saves while allowing only 15 goals during the entire tournament.
Fase commented, “This tournament was a nice opportunity to play together and gauge where we are as a team early in the season.”
The next test would be as the Rams traveled to the east side of the state to participate in the Ann Arbor Early Bird Invitational tournament.
Nine teams competed in the Ann Arbor tournament, including Upper Arlington and Toledo St. Francis, both traveling from Ohio. Hudsonville and the Rams of Rockford represented the west side of the state. Rounding out the remaining five teams were Ann Arbor Huron, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Okemos, Dexter and Birmingham Groves.
Hudsonville opened the tournament with a 7-2 victory over Ann Arbor Pioneer. The Rams opened by playing last year’s rival, the only team to defeat them during the entire year, Ann Arbor Huron. Rockford went down early 0-2, but then the Ram seniors took over, led by three goals from hole-setter Beach and two sweet “shovel” shot goals by Mike Arend. The Rams swam away with an 8-3 victory. Beach and Arend combined for six of the team’s eight goals.
Arend said, “It felt really great to contribute and have a strong game against Huron.”
In the second game, Rockford faced Upper Arlington. Rockford team depth proved too much for the Ohio team, as the Rams dominated with a 7-2 victory.
Beach indicated that Friday was a good test for the Rams. “In the first game we were down two quickly and worked as a team to win, while the second game against Arlington was a great contest for the depth of our team to shine,” he said.
On Saturday, the Rams opened up against Dexter, jumping out to a 6-0 lead at the end of the first period. The Rams continued to dominate the Doughboys, swimming to a 17-2 victory.
The championship game was a west-side-of-the-state contest, pitting the Rams against the Eagles of Hudsonville. Spirited play by the Eagles led them to a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period. In the second period, momentum shifted as Willison muscled his way in close and scored two goals from the right side.
Willison said that he wanted to give the team a lift. “We were down 1-2 and I wanted to change the pace and momentum of the game,” he commented.
The Rams took a halftime lead of 4-3 and never looked back, coming away with a 9-3 victory, and winning the invitational. The Ram record stands at 9-0. Tournament leaders for the Rams were senior Grant Beach leading the scoring with 11, senior Justin Hulsebus leading with 12 steals, and senior Mike Arend leading with eight assists. Senior goalkeeper Cory Fase allowed only nine scores in four games.
Coach Dave McWatters, reflecting on the first two tournaments, commented, “We are thankful for the good start but we will continue to work hard to become better every possession, every quarter, every game.”