by CINDY M. CRANMER Two of Rockford’s boys water polo teams recently participated in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics, which took place in California. The top 84 teams in the nation played at the event. Rockford finished 41st out of the 84 teams in the 16-and-under category, while they finished 45th of the 84 teams in the 18-and-under category. “We had a great time,” said Coach Dave McWatters. “We’ve been going about 10 years. We learn from the best teams in the nation.” Rockford needed to qualify in order to participate in the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics. The best finish they had was 19th in 2004. The Midwest Qualifying Tournament takes place in mid-June, where the top teams in each age group qualify to attend the Junior Olympics. Rockford finished third in the 16-and-under age category and second in the 18-and-under category. The boys played against teams put together from the entire Midwest region, including Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Michigan. The top four places in each age bracket qualify to go to the Junior Olympics. “It was great weather in California,” McWatters said. “We were able to watch and learn from some of the best athletes in the United States. Some of these athletes could compete in the Olympics in the future.” Each team played seven games of which Rockford won three and lost four. McWatters said their teams were “very competitive” in playing, losing by only a small number of goals. He said the California teams always are in the top places since they can play year-round outside with the weather. “They certainly dominate the sport,” he said. Some area high schools sent players to Rockford’s team to be a part of a unifying experience and to play. Water polo combines the elements of many other sports played in the water. The sport has elements of soccer, lacrosse, basketball, hockey and swimming. Each team has a goalie and six field players, who all swim throughout the game played in a deep pool, and try to score on the other goal. Players can only use one hand to field the ball or pass other than the goalie. “This is the largest water polo tournament in the world,” McWatters said. He said there are […]
Rockford Water Polo Team
by CINDY M. CRANMER Rockford water polo was well represented with its number of teams and their finishes at the Meijer State Games recently. More than 5,000 West Michigan athletes competed in events including archery, 3-D archery, basketball, BMX biking, bowling, boxing, cricket, cycling, disc golf, fencing, figure skating, golf, a fun run, hockey, judo, karate, lacrosse, mountain biking, pickleball, racquetball, rowing, rugby, skateboarding, various gun-shooting sports, softball, swimming, tae kwon do, track and field, volleyball, wakeboard, water polo and wrestling. The water polo event included three Rockford area teams in its first year at the games. The first Meijer State Games took place in 2010. Thousands of spectators now come out to watch the Parade of Athletes, the opening ceremonies and live entertainment and sports. The games opened on Friday, June 22 with Olympic-style competitions held at venues throughout West Michigan including Rockford, Sparta, East Grand Rapids and the entire greater Grand Rapids area. The Meijer State Games are modeled after the Olympics and have the philosophy of encouraging participation, good sportsmanship and healthy living. Coach Dave McWatters tries to stress these values, among other things, to Rockford’s water polo teams. McWatters said some area high schools sent players to Rockford’s team to be part of a unifying experience and to play. “It’s really a combination of many other sports played in the water,” McWatters said of water polo. He said the sport has elements of soccer, lacrosse, basketball, hockey and swimming. Each team has a goalie and six field players, who all swim throughout the game played in a deep pool, and try to score on the other goal. Players can only use one hand to field the ball or pass other than the goalie. McWatters said it’s an honor that water polo was chosen as one of the 30-plus sports now being played at the Meijer State Games. East Grand Rapids was the location for water polo games. Rockford put together two teams of current students, who were primarily from Rockford, and a team of students who graduated this year. The teams finished in second, third and sixth places out of about eight or “We tried to get as many kids involved as possible including kids from other schools,” McWatters said. Helping […]
The “Shootout at the Shore” water polo tournament took place this past weekend, Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-10, at pools in Grand Haven and Holland West Ottawa with 16 teams from around the state of Michigan. Rockford men’s water polo sent two teams with a total of 30 polo players to compete at the Shootout. The tournament was divided into four divisions, with the two squads from Rockford each winning their respective flights. A tremendous amount of polo was played by the squads. The Rockford A team played twice on Friday, finishing their last game at 10:30 p.m. and had to be back at the West Ottawa pool Saturday for a 9:40 a.m. game. This is the third year for senior Mack Finnie to play in the Shootout. He enjoys the tournament and stated, “I look forward to the Shootout at the Shore, and the amount of polo played allows us the opportunity to work on team chemistry.” Both Rockford squads played selfless team water polo. Junior Nick Willison said, “The tournament is a chance for us to work on and strengthen all parts of our team.” For the Rockford A squad, sophomore Craig Wasberg led the team with 14 steals, and junior Nick Willison led the team in assists with seven. Junior Grant Beach and Wasberg both scored 10 goals to lead the team. Leading the Rockford B squad in scoring was senior Nick Dulak with 13 goals. Both teams played with intensity and tenacity. The depth and balanced team effort on the squads served Rockford well as they fought their way through opposite brackets in the 16-team pool. Both squads racked up records of 4-0. The perfect records meant that the two squads would have faced off against each other in the tournament finals. In the end, the decision was made to congratulate both teams and not play an inter-squad championship.
SENIORS END HIGH SCHOOL WATER POLO CAREER WITH WINNING PLAY—Senior captains Derik Bothma, Connor Thelen, Kyle Peterson and Tyler Manikowski lift the state championship trophy. Photo by GORDON PETERSON Let’s start at the end. State championship game—end of third period—and Rockford water polo senior captain Tyler Manikowski has been struggling. At the side of the pool during the quarter break, he climbed out and said to Coach Dave McWatters, “Coach, put Eric in. He’s playing better than me”—Eric Chisholm the sophomore, Manikowski the senior. The senior captain gave way to a kid two years younger, a kid truly playing great water polo, saying, “Go, Eric. Go play. Go win this game.” With their tremendous shooters, Kentwood soon pulled ahead by two, but Rockford fought back with junior Jeff Schmitt’s three great goals, and then Kentwood scored a penalty shot to tie. Now under a minute, McWatters called time. Back at the side of the pool, he’s decided on the lineup to finish regulation time—six starters plus either Chisholm or Manikowski. The coach turned to Manikowski, who had been on the bench now for most of the fourth quarter, and said “Tyler, you’re the senior. It’s your call. Can you do it?” “Put me in, coach,” Manikowski replied. Peterson, to Bothma, to Thelen to Manikowksi is how the passing went. Manikowski had the greatest step-out to the ball he’s ever had, turned, saw the back of the net, and blew the ball past Kentwood’s great goalie, who had just moved to counter Bothma’s—and then Thelen’s—fakes. Manikowski’s two-meter defender hardly reacted. The defender was too tired. He had played every single second of the game. Coach McWatters commented, “Tyler’s unselfishness is a powerful example of what won us a state championship. Tyler calling himself out, making way for the young kid who was playing the best polo of his life, rested Tyler enough for that last minute, so he had the energy to make the greatest play of his life. Tyler’s unselfishness helped win us a state championship.” Many things go into winning a state championship. Peterson, to Bothma, to Thelen to Manikowski—that was the last play. Peterson, as he always does, set up his teammates for success. Bothma—the great shooter now because he’s also become a great passer—rose up […]
The Rockford water polo team will head to Seaholm High School in Birmingham Friday afternoon, Nov. 13, to compete in the Michigan Water Polo Association (MWPA) state championship. The Rams have won six state water polo titles in the past, including five in a row from 2003 to 2007. They will have to play their best to bring home the trophy this year. “In order to win, we’ll have to play three great games,” cautioned Coach Dave McWatters. “There are a lot of good teams and players in the state this year. Each game will be an incredible challenge, but that’s what a state tournament is all about.” The Rams open the tournament at 7:45 p.m. Friday against Birmingham Groves. Rockford took third place in the west region, and Groves took second in the east. Groves was the preseason number one team in the state. After a rocky start to their season, they’re beginning to live up to the preseason hype. Rockford, on the other hand, entered the season with a young team and a lot of question marks. The Rams have proven that when they play their best they can beat the top teams in the state. But they’ve also learned that when they don’t, those competitors will come out on top. “We finished regionals playing well,” affirmed McWatters. “In the fourth quarter of our final game, we staged one of the best comebacks ever for Rockford water polo. The boys showed a great deal of confidence and resilience. We plan to carry those qualities with us to state.” According to senior captain Derik Bothma, the Rams are looking forward to seeing what they can do at state. “We’re going in as underdogs. We’ve surprised some teams this year and hope to do so at state. We’ll give it everything we’ve got!”