The Grand Haven water polo team has managed to stay focused and determined to improve through a busy middle portion of the season, defeating Jenison on Monday, 9-4, on the road.
A quick start by Jenison threatened to derail the Bucs, as the Wildcats finished the first quarter leading 1-0 after netting an early six-on-five power-play goal. Grand Haven quickly corrected the deficit, scoring two goals in the first 30 seconds of the second period.
“We have been known to not come out strong, so we warmed up quick and hard,” Grand Haven head coach Bill Hamm said. “Jenison came out ready to play, so it’s a good thing we followed.
“We were a little slow and inaccurate with our passes early, and had quite a few ineffective shots.”
Jordan DeVries got Grand Haven started, capitalizing on a Jenison exclusion with a six-on-five goal. Fellow senior Grant Ruster displayed some hustle for the Bucs’ second goal, nabbing a steal near mid-pool before taking it all the way down for a one-on-one with the Jenison keeper. The Wildcat goalie continued his stellar game with a point-blank save, before Ruster collected the rebound and netted a nifty backhand.
With 3:50 left in the quarter, the Bucs struck again, as the team’s leading scorer, senior Mason Fritz, buried a backhand shot from 5-meters out. Fritz made it double just 34 seconds later, executing a textbook six-on-five, one-touch goal from the post.
Determined to cement their lead, Fritz converted a hat trick 20 seconds later, ripping an outside shot in transition to extend the Bucs’ lead to 5-1. Jenison would score with 2:16 left in the half to pull within three.
The Wildcats threatened to break back into the game, scoring the first goal of the second half, but an explosive Grand Haven offense stifled the comeback, finishing off the third period with two goals, one from Ethan Ball and another from Fritz, while revamping their defensive effort to hold the Wildcats off the scoreboard.
“Our defense progressively got weaker,” Hamm said. “We got back into it in the third and shut them down, then just decided to not play defense in the fourth.”
As the fourth quarter began, the Bucs pulled away with Fritz netting his fifth goal of the evening with 4:36 left in the game.
The final two minutes saw Grand Haven drop is defensive intensity and Jenison frantically capitalize on short time. The Wildcats netted three goals in the final two minutes. Offset by a six-on-five goal by Mark Wilgenburg, the garbage-time rush wasn’t enough, leaving the game at its final score.
“We know what we will be practicing this coming week,” Hamm said.
While Fritz can produce on offense essentially whenever he needs to, coach Hamm is looking for a little wider participation with the playoffs looming.
“Our intent right now is to make sure we are working as a team and dispersing the ball,” he said. “We need to get more than one guy scoring, we have a lot of guys shooting, which helps. We have to share the wealth.
“Eli VandenBrand has done a great job of stepping up and working hard, and plays good defense. Ethan Ball is outstanding and plays great defense, he just has to learn how to put the ball in the back of the net quickly. Reily Wisniewksi is a real ball mover for us and again, plays great defense. We have been trying a sophomore, Nick Wilson, in the set positions and he is learning a bunch.”
While more Bucs are taking shots at the goal, poor shot placement won’t get them far as they stare down the state tournament.
“Jenison’s keeper is probably the best in our district, but boy we made him look good today, didn’t we,” Hamm said. “In the first quarter, that was all him to keep us scoreless, but he looked a lot better when we kept hitting him in the hands.”
With just two regular games and one tournament left before the beginning of the playoffs, the Bucs are keen on making sure they don’t have to sweat the district tournament on Oct. 20.
“We are trying to not lose focus, we have two more really good games ahead of us then the district coming,” Hamm said. “For everybody, the biggest concern is to not be fourth or fifth in the district come tournament time and avoid that play-in game.
“These seeding games with Jenison, Hudsonville, Zeeland and West Ottawa are very important games so we can guarantee we extend our season to the regional.”
A break in the season will give the Bucs a chance to address some lessons learned from a bust stretch of the season.
“We finally get a break, no more games this week, and no tournament this weekend,” Hamm said. “We can focus on learning for a little bit. Things get pretty crazy going from a tournament Friday and Saturday to a game Monday, there is no time to teach.”
Grand Haven will look to put it all together for their final home game of the season against Grandville on Monday, Oct. 9, before finishing off their regular season against Zeeland on Oct. 11.