The Grand Haven boys water polo season is off and swimming this fall, and the pace is fast. Despite the daunting task of replacing a class of 11 seniors from a year ago, the Bucs are determined to float to the state’s top tier once again.
They got their start over the weekend, as the Grand Haven Aquatic Center hosted the Shootout at the Shore tournament, attracting strong local and east side talent.
Grand Haven finished 3-1 on the weekend, defeating Ann Arbor Huron (11-8), Jenison (10-3) and Grand Blanc (13-8), while falling to Zeeland (10-9).
The successful weekend is owed to a strong combination of key returners and newcomers who are stepping into their new leadership roles with ease.
“We’ve got plenty of experienced boys who played varsity last year and some sharp talent coming up,” said Grand Haven head coach Bill Hamm. “We bring back a couple good starters and upperclassmen from last year in Eli Vandenbrand and Ethan Ball, a starting goalie in Mark Nordin, some guys who played in the Junior Olympic summer program in Mark Wilgenburg and Griffin Kelly as well as Jackson Hamm.
“We have a couple of super-talented sophomores up in Thomas and Michael Macdonald as well as some standout juniors in Nick Wilson, Jack Hardeback, Carter Brown and Jack Timmer.
“So, we have a lot of guys coming back that played a lot of junior varsity last season, as well as some good varsity experience.”
Newcomer Wilson led the charge at the Shootout on the Shore, netting 18 goals through the four-game weekend to go with 12 steals. Ball also proved productive, swiping eight steals and scoring five goals.
For coach Hamm, defense and chemistry made the weekend, as the Bucs vastly improved over their last outing.
“We had a tough go-around in the first set of games. We went down to Jenison and lost all four games, so this weekend we saw what a little experience and playing as a team does,” Hamm said. “This weekend, they did what Grand Haven does: swim and play defense. We were able to shut down some great players this weekend and are out swimming people.
“Everyone is finding their positions in the pool. We still have to work on some passing and not shooting at goalies, but accuracy will come with experience.”
The quick pace of improvement should be encouraging to Bucs polo fans. The west side is the cream of the state once again, but graduation hit the region hard, aiding coach Hamm’s outlook for the team.
“The strength this year is again on the west side, and I’m glad to be a part of it. All we have to do is eek out one win to make it out of the district tournament. The regional tournament is the expected goal, with the end goal being the state tournament, he said. “Rockford, us and Zeeland lost a lot of seniors but were deep in their bench. Hudsonville is probably the best team in the state the way we are looking right now.
“Of the two west districts, we are in the tougher one. Jenison will be tough, Zeeland is always physical and well coached. West Ottawa didn’t have any seniors last year so they will be improved and we’re all aiming for Hudsonville.
“We are ahead of schedule, I was hoping to be playing well by October. This weekend, we played well. Right now, we look like we belong in the top four of the region, which means the state tournament.”
The Bucs are scheduled to continue their quest to the big dance today as they host defending state champion Rockford.