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Firm foundations

Duncan MacLean • Nov 14, 2016 at 12:15 AM

HUDSONVILLE— The Grand Haven boys water polo team had a rebuilding year this year, but it sure didn’t seem that way when it was all said and done.

After graduating a majority of the starting lineup that finished fifth at the state tournament last year, the Bucs fought to the final weekend of the season with a varsity squad of exclusively underclassmen. They finished sixth in the state on Saturday, losing their final game to Dexter, 15-9.

Only eight teams earn the right to compete at the state tournament, Grand Haven pulled it off with young players and hard work.

After losing their opening round game to Ann Arbor Huron the Bucs entered the consolation ladder with a matchup against Zeeland leading their schedule on Saturday. It would be the eighth time the two teams have played this season and the third in the postseason.

Going into the game, Zeeland led the head-to-head, 4-3. The Bucs would even the score in their Saturday morning game, defeating their defacto playoff rivals, 12-9.

“It was fun, we went 50-50 with them this year, 4-4. They played well and played determined,”

Grand Haven coach Bill Hamm said of the game. “They had some shooters and goal scorers. They started to get away from us a little but we got it back.”

The win sent Grand Haven to the consolation tournament championship, to play for fifth place overall, against The Dreadnaughts of Dexter.

A long weekend of games and effort seemed to catch up with the Bucs in their final game of the year; they dropped the decision, 15-9.

The first quarter opened rough for Grand Haven, Dexter netted a quick goal just 30 seconds into the game. They would tack on three more before the Bucs found their way to the net.

Reilly Wisniewski got things started for Grand Haven when buddy bar saved a shot by Mason Fritz. Wisniewski scooped up the rebound and whipped it around for a backhanded score. The first period would expire with Grand Haven down, 4-1.

The second quarter doubled the score, Dexter scored four more goals, while Fritz sent one home for the Bucs, intermission hit Grand Haven with a daunting six-goal deficit and low morale.

Things would not improve. Physical play and high pressure plagued the Bucs keeping them from playing their best game. Passes flew off-target and shots found more pipe than nylon.

Grant Ruster ripped off Grand Haven’s third quarter goal, skipping home an outside shot while the Dreadnaughts added another four to their tally.

With an insurmountable deficit heading into the fourth both teams subbed down and the Bucs got comfortable. The final period opened with a steal by Fritz turned breakaway. Jordan DeVries shot down the pool opposite of Fritz who tossed the assist for DeVries’ first of two goals. Immediately following the 2-on-1 burn, Ruster popped off a steal to tee-shot goal. DeVries, feeling good, scored again for the Bucs with three minutes left in the game.

As the final minute of the season approached, Jon Hoffman figured he might as well pad his point total. Hoffman scored two goals in the last minute on outside shots. The final Grand Haven goal of the year came with just seven seconds left in the game, courtesy of Fritz.

Despite his final punctuation on the season, Fritz was disappointed with the finish.

“I think I went into it thinking ‘ok we have to win’ too much,” Fritz said. “I rushed a lot, thought about it too much. We didn’t focus on relaxing as a team.

“Last year our state team got fifth so we felt like we had to get the same as last year, I think it got to us.”

“It’s an emotionally draining day,” coach Hamm said of the double-headed Saturday. “They made more than their fair share of mistakes, simple fundamentals were set aside in the last game. We were there in the morning and there on Friday.”

The sixth place finish is a high one for a team featuring only two seniors, who played on the JV team in the regular season and served as “emotional leaders” during the post season, according to coach Hamm.

“They are two very dedicated team members, they love this team and they lead this team very well,” he said. “They are in just their second year of water polo with the JV team, very inexperienced, but they have a ton of fun and got to get in this weekend.”

Things are looking promising for the Bucs next year then, they will graduate none of their key players and draw from a 20-man JV team this year.

“Everyone worked so hard,” Fritz on the season. “Looking from the beginning to the end of the season, we improved so much. We are going to be a team to be reckoned with next year.

“Okemos, who was in the final, they were sixth last year,” added Fritz.

Food for thought.

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