In the opening round of Friday’s Shootout at the Shore tournament at Grand Haven High School, however, the outmanned Bucs couldn’t quite keep pace against a deeper Grandville team.
After battling back to force a 3-3 halftime tie, the Bulldogs went on to outscore Grand Haven 4-2 in the second half to hold on for a 7-5 win.
“We have a young team this year with normally only two substitutes,” said first-year Grand Haven coach Jeff Ledger. “We were a little shorthanded today, and we had four girls who have never played water polo before starting for us today. He (Grandville coach Grant Weick) was smart and decided to mass substitute players throughout the game and make us run a lot in a fast-paced game.
“What happens to younger players in that situation is that they get caught watching the action in front of them and don’t notice a player on the other team taking off down the pool. Once you get tired, that starts happening more, and then you lose focus, and you end up chasing people the rest of the way.”
Grandville’s long passes in transition ultimately helped the Bulldogs pull away, but coach Ledger thought a smaller pool might have kept things tighter.
“We play better in smaller pools, because we don’t have a ton of substitutes,” he said. “This pool is a beast, so it didn’t really work in our favor at times. When we played in the East Grand Rapids tournament earlier this year, they split their pool vertically so teams didn’t get as tanked. That helped us stay fresh, and we played a little sharper at the end of games.”
Senior captain Murielle Garbarino recorded a hat trick to lead the Bucs (5-2), while Clare O’Connor and Sophie Kleyla each added one goal.
“I’m happy with a lot of things we’re doing right now, even when we lose,” Ledger said. “We’ll see how things play out as a the season goes on, and we’ll work on more things and celebrate more things.”
More than anything, Ledger has been impressed with the team chemistry and the willingness of the more experience players to help the newcomers along on the fly.
“The girls seem to get along with each other very well, which is nice for me as a new coach,” he said. “The older girls are very helpful with the girls that are new to this. I have a few girls that are swimmers but have never played water polo before, so they have to learn the rules and everything. The upperclassmen have been very helpful with that aspect of the coaching.
“The biggest thing for us is just keeping a positive mindset. Occasionally, you might lose a few games in a row, but you just have to ignore that stuff and push it past you. We have healthy team chemistry and that makes a huge difference in the long run.”