The Grand Haven boys aquatic programs found themselves facing a deficit of upperclassmen and a groundswell of young talent this season. Young teams led by young players made a splash at the state level as the water polo team finished sixth at the state tournament and the swim team took a roster of mostly brand-new athletes to an appearance at the Division 1 state meet.
Improvement was the name of the game for both the water polo and swim teams, something Ruster excelled at motivating. Both Grand Haven water polo coach Bill Hamm and swim coach Doug Thorne cited Ruster’s fine example for his peers and unmatchable work ethic as inspiration that motivated a higher level of training from his peers.
As a junior, Ruster broke into the big time in both aquatic arenas, bringing his teams along with him as a stalwart, but quiet leader.
In good hands
With fellow junior Mason Fritz leading the team offensively, Ruster took on the bruising role of lockdown defender and the finesse position of facilitator, leading the Bucs to 24-17 record.
“He is our top assist giver and hands down our lead defender, and will be again this coming year,” Hamm said. “He sees the game from altitude, literally. He plays very high in the water and that makes him a great assist man. He sees his teammates like no one else does.
“He is the best defender I think in our entire region. He can shut down two or three players in the field, he is so tenacious and inexhaustible.”
Ruster put his versatility and tenacity on display in 2016, leading the Bucs in four statistical categories with 155 steals, 60 assists, 15 blocks and 32 kick outs over their 41-game season.
“Sometimes, the referees and opposing teams don’t take his enthusiasm so well,” Hamm said of the team-high 32 exclusions.
That unbridled fire is not something coach Hamm is eager to douse after seeing the affect it can have on Ruster’s teammates.
“Grant is the team comedian, he always has a smile on his face, always finding ways to have fun,” Hamm said. “He takes losses personally, but is able to distance himself from that immediately after the game. He makes the other guys enjoy the sport and encourages the hard work in the pool just buy smiling.
“He leads by example, exclusively. It is such a young group, they are still learning the game and have time to improve and are dedicated to being the best team we can. That was all led by Grant. He is an eager athlete, he wants to be excellent. If he can get everyone to play more like him, we will be a fantastic team.”
Excellence will be the goal in 2017 as he enters his final year on the squad. After all the swipes and dimes in 2016, Ruster and the Bucs took their young team to a sixth-place finish in the state tournament, with higher goals in mind for the coming season.
“The sky is the limit,” Hamm said. “We certainly want to be in the top four, and there is no reason we can’t be in the top two. Everyone is going to have to learn to be the giver that Grant is. If they can, we will be fantastic.”
Ruster followed up his stellar polo season by taking up the mantle of the Grand Haven swim program. Captaining a team of 50 swimmers, many of which were in the pool for the first time, Ruster continued to lead with work ethic and poise.
“Grant is one of those kids that loves to compete,” Thorne said. “The bigger the stage the better he produces. He leads by example every day. Nobody trains harder than he does.”
Selected as a captain by his peers for his junior season, Ruster found some maturity that allowed him to rise to the top of Division 1 swimming. He executed impressive time drops in both of his individual events, cutting seven seconds off his 200-yard individual medley time (1:53.13) to take sixth in the state, and four seconds off his 100 breaststroke time (59.66) to finish 17th.
“To go from a two minute in the 200 I.M. to a 1:53, that is a huge drop. He was picked as a captain and knew he had to represent,” Thorne said. “Not that he ever didn’t train hard, but he was more mature about his training this season. He knows that when a hard set it given, he needs to work it even harder.”
After qualifying for the state meet as a sophomore and winning an individual O-K Red Conference title, Ruster took the accolades and set his goals higher.
“He knew that he wanted to do better in place at the state meet, we tapered him for the conference meet his sophomore year and he was a champion. This year it as more important to him to do well at the state meet,” Thorne said. “He sacrificed a few spots at conference to train straight through it and lead us at state.”
Much like in the fall, Ruster inspires his teammates out of the pool, as well. Without raising his voice, he draws the best out of everyone around him.
“He is the pulse of this team,” Thorne said. “He pushes everybody to get better. He is the leader and if the leader of your team is getting better, everyone is going to get better. He knows now he wants to step up his game and has been training club all spring and summer. With him leading the way, we are going to be good.”
With one more lap in the pool, Ruster has the chance to join the elite ranks of his two sports and with a crop of now talented veterans, this former young leader has a lot of powerful teammates to inspire this upcoming season.