That task is especially difficult for Grand Haven water polo coach Bill Hamm, as he looks to lead a new group of Haven polo players.
“We’re going back to teaching the fundamentals right now,” Hamm said after practice on Monday. “We’ve got a core of six or seven guys that have experience with Junior Olympic Water Polo, so they have some experience. Then we have some freshmen that have advanced quickly as well, but they need all the experience they can get. We also have some upperclassmen that are relatively new to the sport. We have three seniors who only have one year of experience.”
Despite the lack of experience, Grand Haven has already tested themselves early on this fall season with matchups against Ann Arbor Huron, Okemos and Dexter last weekend.
“Friday was tough,” Hamm admitted. “We started seven brand-new people and lost to Ann Arbor Huron and Okemos. Both of those teams didn’t lose anybody from last year, and we have lost five out of seven starters and nine seniors as a whole.
“That’s part of the ebbs and flows of high school sports, though. Some teams return a lot of players and some don’t.”
Hamm views the early season contests as the most effective way to get his young squad ready for the season ahead.
“Okemos, quite frankly, could be the state champion this year,” he added. “They are returning all seven starters, and they thumped us pretty good. I don’t think we’ll find better competition than that until some of our conference dual meets in October. My philosophy has always been that I don’t care if we don’t win a game until districts start. If we win 10 games after that, that’s all that matters.”
The Bucs will also host a Shootout at the Shore tournament in September where the team will be able to measure up to some of the best teams both locally and across the state.
“We’ll have a big shootout here in early September that will go in a long way in our improvement as a team, as well,” Hamm said. “We’ll be bringing in all the local teams plus some eastside schools like Saline, Huron and a few others.
“That will be a big barometer for us. The way we come out of that tournament I think will be a big factor in how well we do in the conference and in the postseason.”
The cupboard is far from bare for Hamm, however, as he returns All-Stater Mason Fritz and standout Grant Ruster.
“We have an All-State performer returning in Mason Fritz,” Hamm added. “He’s out in Colorado Springs, Colo. training in the Junior Olympic training program right now, so we’re operating without him at the moment. We also have state qualifier and conference swimming champion, Grant Ruster coming back. He’s going to be an absolute superstar for us.
“Another key player for us is junior Matt Beals, who is coming in as our new starting goalie. He was the starting junior varsity goalie last season, and he’ll be stepping up to a bigger role for us.”
The key for the 2016 team might depend on the production from its underclassmen. If that’s the case, Hamm isn’t too worried about his perceived predicament.
“We have a few freshmen that are going to be very good polo players,” he added. “Nick Wilson, Jack Hardebeck, Jack Timmer, and Carter Brown. We also have some talented sophomores in Jackson Hamm, Griffin Kelly, and Eli VandenBrand, who are all ready to make that step up to the varsity level.
“We’re excited to see what the team will eventually grow into, and I think we’re going to get better and better with each match we play in.”