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Tribune top five male athletes No. 2: Mason Fritz

Duncan MacLean • Jul 27, 2018 at 11:27 PM

The Tribune is counting down our top five male and female athletes, as well as teams for the 2017-18 athletic season. Our No. 2 male athlete of the year is Grand Haven’s Mason Fritz. Fritz established himself as one of the state’s premier water polo players before adding two new varsity sports to his resume in his senior year.

Mason Fritz began his senior water polo season this past fall as a one-sport athlete. After a summer playing for a San Diego water polo club, living in the city with his mother, it was all-or-nothing in the pool for 2017.

As one of the top players in the state, Fritz led the team in goals scored for the third straight season en route to a fifth-place finish at the state tournament. Any other year, it would be a short break and back into the pool for polo training, but after deciding against collegiate water polo, Fritz had some time on his hands.

The senior elected to bring his talents back to the aquatic center, joining the majority of his water polo teammates for a season between the lane lines. It was his first season on a swim team since he shed his goggles following his freshman year. He was immediately competitive, eventually earning All-State Honors and a school record at the Division 1 state finals competing on the Bucs’ sixth-place 400-yard freestyle relay, along with a 13th-place finish on the 200 medley and an individual 13th place in the 100 butterfly.

After a somewhat familiar return to the pool, the spring brought on another athletic adventure. Fritz joined the newly formed Grand Haven boys volleyball team, emerging as a strong net presence and consistent contributor.

Fritz’s coaches credit his adaptability and work ethic for the easy pick-ups senior year.

“He is a true competitor and is eager to learn,” said Grand Haven head swim coach Doug Thorne. “He is a really hard-working kid. Coaches always say that, but he truly was one of the hardest workers I have had. You only have to tell him once how to do something and he will fix it, and he’s the last one in the pool every day getting extra work in.”

For the majority of his career at Grand Haven, Fritz made his living playing water polo — serving as a four-year varsity player in the fall and a prolific club player in the spring and summer.

A prodigy from the start, impressive play on the Grand Haven middle school team yielded a wealth of playing and traveling opportunities for the young player. Stints with the Spartan U14 team earned him trips to California and Texas for national tournaments, a place in the Olympic Development program and eventually one of 70 invitations into the National Team Select Camp. From there, Fritz spent each spring playing with the ODP and summer at the Junior Olympic tournament with Rockford.

In the summers of 2016 and 2017, Fritz leveled up, electing to try out for the San Diego Shores club team, earning a spot and an extended stay on the Golden Coast for both summers.

All the offseason work added up to make Fritz the most prolific player Grand Haven has seen. As a freshman, he served primarily as an early sub to a talented starting lineup. When Bill Hamm took over as head coach in 2015, Fritz broke out as one of the state’s premier players, leading the team as a sophomore with 72 goals and 98 steals. In his junior season, he upped the ante, netting 135 goals on the year to lead the team, while generating 138 steals and 41 assists, both second to Grant Ruster.

“When I came in, it was obvious to me right away that Mason had a different physical stature than all but three players on our team,” Hamm said. “Then, we found that mentally and physically he was very strong, too.”

This past fall, scoring was spread out over a supremely talented senior class, allowing Fritz 82 goals through the regular season, still twice as many as any other player. Despite the diminished scoring total, Fritz was more of a force than ever.

“In the first year I had Mason, he was a team player. He played team offense, team defense, team everything,” Hamm said. “He came back from San Diego with the mindset that no individual was good enough to put anything by him. He lived it.

“No individual has schooled Mason since. Some have played eye-to-eye, but no one has said ‘I got him’. He just doesn’t stand for it.

“I recall he scored a goal against Grandville and gave himself the assist. Other guys just aren’t at that level.”

The effort earned Fritz an All-Everything sweep as he picked up All-Conference, All-Region season, All-Region tournament, first team All-State season, first team All-State tournament and Academic All-State honors for his senior year.

A second season in the pool, this time between the lane lines, provided Fritz the chance to continue building his mountain of accolades. Returning to the pool, expectations were high.

“Watching his water polo career, we knew he is truly one of the hardest working kids we have ever seen,” Thorne said. “He is strong as an ox. By far one of the strongest athletes we have ever had.”

Fritz’s strength quickly became apparent in the sprint events, where he asserted himself as a contender for one of the Bucs’ prestigious relay spots. As the season wore on, he cemented a place on the team as a butterflier and sprinter.

“He was pretty raw. I knew when he came back out that we had an athlete that was going to contribute and possibly press some relays.” Thorne said. “With his athletic ability he jumped right back in and was close to state cuts right away, but we needed to fine-tune some things. He had to get back into the flair of swimming and learn some technique. It was a process.”

Development came in leaps and bounds. In the first meet of the year, Fritz clocked in at 25.07 seconds as the medley relay butterfly leg, and 55.93 as the anchor leg of the 400 freestyle relay. In an early-season matchup with Spring Lake, he clocked a 55.93 100 butterfly.

Flash forward to end of the season and Fritz had captured a competitive individual state cut in the 100 fly and claimed a spot on both the medley and 400 freestyle state relays. Along the way, he picked up a fifth-place finish in the butterfly at the O-K Red Conference championships, along with fifth place on the 400 freestyle relay and fourth in the medley.

At the state meet, Fritz tapered with the best of them, dropping to a 51.74 in the 100 butterfly, a 23.33 on the medley relay and a 47.50 as the all-important final leg of the 400 free.

The performance by Ruster, Eli Vandenbrand, Jordan Devries and Fritz set the Grand Haven 400 free relay school record at 3:08.89 and was an All-American consideration time.

“He had one of the best tapers of all of our kids on the team,” Thorne said. “He was a huge part of that 400 freestyle relay team dropping all that time.”

The decision to give the anchor leg to the swimmer in his first year back in competition was an easy one for Thorne.

“I put him on the end because he is a true competitor,” he said. “I knew he was going to race. Technique goes out the window at the state meet, you either have it or you don’t. Mason has it. He has all the heart in the world. I would put him against anyone.”

Eager to test his proven athleticism on land, Fritz didn’t hesitate at the opportunity to hit the hardwood this spring with the Grand Haven boys volleyball team. The Bucs went all the way, clinching the inaugural West Michigan Boys Volleyball Conference title, with Fritz playing an integral rotation role up front.

“I was really impressed with the water polo guys,” said Grand Haven boys volleyball coach Jim Vantol. “Fritz is a really efficient hitter. He picks up a lot of kills for someone who doesn’t play every game.”

Fritz did it all with a resourceful work ethic and irrefutable talent and athleticism, proving it is never too late to pick up a new hobby, even at the varsity level.

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