The Grand Haven boys water polo team celebrated a class of 11 seniors that embody that team-first mentality with a 16-3 victory over Grandville on Monday’s Senior Night honoring Matt Fahey, Mason Fritz, Jon Hoffman, Joshua Koornneef, Grand Ruster, Brigham Thornock, Reilly Wisniewski, Matt Beals, Adin Bohn, Peter Clark and Jordan DeVries.
The game wasn’t much of a contest, as the Bucs led 7-0 after the first quarter, 9-0 at halftime and 13-2 at the final break, but that doesn’t mean the result wasn’t significant.
“The goal tonight was to make something that was memorable for our seniors, because they have been at this for a long time,” Grand Haven head coach Bill Hamm said. “Tonight was about giving them a memory for all the years they have worked hard. We got all of them in the game and almost all of them a goal.”
The usual suspects led the way early, as Fritz and Koornneef split Grand Haven’s first four goals, two-and-two, through the first four minutes of play.
Hoffman got on the board next, with a display of power and finesse inside 2 meters, wrestling possession back from his defender before netting a spin shot.
Fahey pushed the Bucs’ lead to six goals, scoring from the wing on their first man-up opportunity, assisted by a drawn exclusion by Wisniewski.
Clark capped off the first quarter converting a crisp weak-side pass with an outside shot to the corner.
DeVries kicked off the second quarter with a man-up goal, assisted by Fritz from the wing. Fritz would finish the first half with a nifty goal from hole set, popping a pass over his defender to himself before finishing with his off hand.
Grandville opened the second half with two goals, before DeVries answered with two straight goals, one assisted by Clark, the second via six-on-five assisted by Matt Marcus.
The first non-senior to score was Jake Klayhorst, as he shoved home a goal from the wing as the third quarter expired. Klayhorst and Marcus struck again in the fourth, before Ruster netted his first goal of the contest with under one-minute to play on a nifty point-blank backhand shot.
The routing was a fitting celebration of a class full of talent and heart.
“They love the game almost as much as they love each other,” Hamm said of the seniors. “They are just good friends, they have great chemistry. I can picture all 11 of them as little kids playing together, that is what is so special. They have been at this a long time.”
The class of 2018’s love of the game can be attested to their extended playing careers, as many of them took advantage of middle school water polo programs to prepare for the high school game.
“Coaches in the community in making middle school water polo a reality have done a fabulous thing for the sport,” Hamm said. “Of the 11 guys, five of them have been playing together for seven years.”
Their extended playing time not only increased skill, but also set up this group’s dedication to the game.
“This class was 22 kids as freshmen,” Hamm said. “The others found other sports or got tired of it. I think it is a testament to how much these guys love the sport. It is hard work, but they enjoy it and play with a smile.”
Among the 11 seniors, a few have developed into true stars. Fritz, Ruster, Beals and Koornneef start every game for the Bucs, and have led Grand Haven back into the ranks of the top programs in the state.
“Mason left swimming so he could be a better water polo player — that is how much he loves the game,” Hamm said. “He picked up his own weight training program, he does his own development in the offseason, which lead to the junior Olympic training program.”
While Fritz leads the Bucs in scoring this season and is a near lock to repeat as an All-State performer, their lockdown defense is lead by Ruster, who has weaponized his game to the point of disbelief for many opponents, and even his own coach.
“He is the least-credited phenom I have ever watched,” Hamm said. “He is an incredible player, he does things that just don’t seem physically possible, and manages to play the game smiling and laughing all the time. He just bewilders me with the things we can do. In my mind, he is first-team All-State hands down. Now, we just gave to get the rest of the community to see that in the postseason.”
If Fritz runs the offense, and Ruster owns the defense, Koornneef glues them together from hole set. “The Beast” as his teammates refer to him operates down low, battling the strongest players in the water on both sides of the pool.
“He just works hard, constantly,” Hamm said. “It has paid off. He has learned to play the game and handle the best every other team has to offer. He defends them and he gets into set against them. We love him playing defense and offense and are always confident when he is in the pool.”
There are a few balls every game that Fritz can’t score, Ruster can’t steal and Koornneef can’t control. For those, keeper Matt Beals is there for a near sure-fire save.
“He has got his confidence level up, has his eye on the ball and has great reflexes,” Hamm said of his goalie. “He understands the game better than anyone in the pool. You will find that usually the goalie is the smartest kid in the water, and I believe that about him. He is having a great season, now we just gotta win those last 10 games.”
Those last 10 games run through the district, regional and state tournaments. The Bucs took home a disappointing sixth-place finish last year with nearly an identical team, and have set the sky as the limit for their postseason run this year.