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GH water polo season ends in district opener

Adam Knorr • Updated May 14, 2016 at 12:04 AM

HUDSONVILLE — Murielle Garbarino couldn’t find an inch of space. By the time the Zeeland defense relented and Garbarino found the back of the net, it was too late for the Grand Haven girls water polo team.

The No. 6-seed Buccaneers fell 11-8 to No. 3-seed Zeeland (11-14) at Hudsonville High School on Friday evening, ending their season in the first round of the West Region District 1.

“I’m really happy with the way we played,” Garbarino said. “We have really young team, mostly freshmen or first-year swimmers who thought they'd try water polo. And I'm not disappointed at all, even though we lost and now our season's over. We got better at playing even though we didn't win.”

Grand Haven (4-13) held tight in the first period, but was unable to keep pace with Zeeland throughout the contest. Just under 3 minutes into the first quarter, Zeeland’s Morgan Bullock netted the first of her game-high eight goals to send her squad in front. Less than a minute later, Grand Haven’s Sophie Kleyla scored after a whistle to knot the game at 1-1.

Quickly, the Bucs found the back of the net again, as Jenna Benson netted a goal midway through the first quarter. Zeeland tied it up and took a 3-2 lead before the buzzer sounded at the end of the quarter, however, with goals courtesy of Paige Hoeve and Bullock.

Grand Haven’s Lydiah Baker knotted the game at 3-3 with the first goal of the second quarter, but Zeeland kept coming. Rylee Leetsma sent Zeeland ahead with a goal with 5:21 remaining in the quarter, and Bullock swiped two more goals before the half ended to send Zeeland into the break ahead 6-3.

Garbarino, the Bucs’ star player and lone senior, was held scoreless in the first half due to crafty game-planning by Zeeland.

“What happens is when (Garbarino) goes in front of the goal, (Zeeland) changes their defense completely,” said first-year Grand Haven head coach Jeff Ledger. “So it’s our responsibility to free up other people because she draws in three people. That’s respect. They know she’s a handful and they can only control her so long.”

It turned out to be long enough. Zeeland continued to pepper Grand Haven goaltender Liza Novak with shots, and broke through three more times in the third period. Bullock netted her fourth goal just over a minute into the third period, and added her fifth with a low shot from the left side with 1:50 to play in the frame.

Down 8-3, the Bucs were floundering, but found a goal courtesy of Katalin Kovach, who rifled a shot into the high left corner of the net.

“When the ball gets spread around, (the players) are happy,” said Ledger, who saw six different Bucs score in the contest. “We haven’t won a lot of games, but you can still have fun. And you take the moments you can get.”

It looked as if Grand Haven would head into the fourth quarter down just 8-4, but a nearly full-pool shot from Bullock beat Novak as the buzzer sounded, giving Zeeland a 9-4 lead with a period to play in Grand Haven’s season.

The Bucs struck first in the fourth quarter, as Garbarino fed Kleyla in the slot for a goal to draw the Zeeland lead to 9-5. Bullock scored again a minute later, however, and Zeeland added another quick tally to pull ahead 11-5.

With 2 minutes to go, Zeeland subbed for all players in the pool, and the Bucs took advantage. Grand Haven scored the final three goals — including two tallies by Garbarino — as the game ended 11-8.

“(I’ll) just (remember) my team,” said Garbarino, who will play club water polo at Grand Valley State University next year. “I don’t remember the games as much as I remember playing (with teammates). Some of the best friends I have I made playing water polo.”

Ledger’s squad bowed out early in the postseason in his first year as a head coach, but it’s not a disappointing feeling he leaves the season with.

“As a first-year coach there’s probably a few things I would’ve done different. But there’s nothing major. They had to get to know me and I had to get to know them,” he said. "We got to know each other now, expectations are going to be different, but I had a lot of fun."

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