A perfect season, Rams go 50-0
The Rockford Men’s water polo squad began its state tournament run this past Friday afternoon going up against the Dreadnaughts of Dexter in the first round. The number one ranked Rams dominated from the start; senior Mike Arend captured the sprint and Rockford needed only 48 seconds to score. Senior Nick Willison was on the receiving end of a full pool pass from goalie Corey Fase, finding the net. After the game Willison stated, “All the elements came together; we really jelled as a team.” The first period saw five Ram players scoring, led by Senior Grant Beach with a hat trick of three goals. At the half Rockford had a commanding 10-1 lead. In the second half every member of the squad saw play including the players brought up from the junior varsity team for the tournament run. This will pay dividends in future years as underclassmen draw on this experience. Senior co-captain Fase said of the contest, “This was an awesome first game, a great way to start the tournament and we are certainly looking forward to Saturday.” The Rams captured the victory over Dexter 14-1
Saturday morning the Rams faced the Jenison Wildcats who defeated the Chieftains of Okemos on Friday night 12-6. Before the game the Rams were stunned as they were informed that their coach Dave McWatters had been hospitalized and would be unable to attend the championship day. Assistant coach Craig Peterman passed onto the team words of encouragement from McWatters. Rockford scored first on a nice pass from Jacob Davis to fast swimming Nick Willison who found the upper corner of the net. Jenison evened the score putting it between the pipes on a 6-on-5 advantage. At the 2:34 mark Jenison’s goalie coming out of a time out put the ball in play which was stolen on a heads up play by junior Stephen Cress who heaved a ¾ pool shot into the empty net. Willison added another score as the Rams took a 3-2 lead into the second quarter. In the second quarter Rockford began to pull away behind two goals from junior Reese Patino and one each from Willison and Justin Hulsebus. In the second half of the contest the Rams continued to widen their lead behind goals from Arend, Hulsebus, Jacob Brown and Willison who scored his 4th goal of the contest. Rockford captured the semi-final victory 11-4.
In the state championship game the Rams took on their cross state rival, the team that knocked them out of the championship last year, the River Rats of Ann Arbor Huron. This was a match up that Rockford has been anticipating since last November. The Rams lead the entire contest inspired by the desire to avenge last year’s loss and completing a perfect undefeated season. Rockford accomplished both, swimming to a 14-6 championship victory and an unbelievable season record of 50-0. The Rams scored first on a counter attack break-a-way with Arend finding Jacob Davis out front who put it between the pipes. In the first half of the contest Hulsebus, Patino, and Arend all hit the net twice as Rockford took a 9-3 lead. In the second half Beach muscled in two from the 2-meter hole set, Hulsebus and Patino both added their third goals of the contest as the Rams dominated the River Rats on their way to capture the championship victory. Senior goal tender Corey Fase was dominate between the pipes, as Rockford scored 35 goals during the tournament; Fase, going up against the best teams in the state only allowed 10 into the net during two days of play.
As the perfect season for the Rams drew to a successful close numerous awards were earned. Seniors Grant Beach, Justin Hulsebus and Nick Willison earned first team all state recognition for the season. Beach also earned first team all tournament and Hulsebus earned second team all tournament honors. Rockford coach Dave McWatters was recognized as the Michigan High School Water Polo Coach of the Year. This is the ninth state championship for the polo program under McWatters and for this year’s group of seniors, their third. Congratulations to the Rockford water polo team for a perfect record of 50-0, a dominating season and a state championship trophy.