Boys Water Polo: Dexter scores dramatic victory over Pioneer in thrilling East Regional final

By Bethany Williston / For WLAA

All great rivalries are dependent upon emotion. Both teams need to have experienced the excitement of winning and the sting of losing.

Such is the case for Pioneer and Dexter boys’ water polo. This season the two teams have alternated in the wins and loss column. Pioneer won first, Dexter took the next two games. Pioneer defeated Dexter at Districts to take the title. The two teams met again in the championship game at Regionals. The final game between the rivals was the longest game of the season so far. For fans of the sport, it was one of the most exciting games they’d ever seen.

The East Regional final, hosted by Birmingham Seaholm, took place on Friday, May 21. The game started at 8 p.m.

Within a matter of minutes, Pioneer’s senior captain Liam Herbert scored the first goal. However, scoring was difficult as both goalies were on their game. The two teams fought back and forth with Pioneer in the lead, 3 – 2 after the first quarter. Pioneer’s sprinters Alex Farmer and Gabe Burks traded off on wins. However, with Pioneer unable to score in the second quarter the Dreadnaughts pulled ahead 4-3 at the half.

It was an aggressive and physical game. Cam Williston was already watching from the sidelines recovering from nose surgery after playing Dexter in late April. Sophomore Gabe Burks suffered an injury near the end of the first quarter but proceeded to play the entire game with a bloody right eye. Ari Jacobs, with a shiner from the quarter finals was in the playing rotation and Luke Packard who bit a hole in his tongue never let up.

In the third quarter, the defensive moves for both teams prevented any goals from being scored. Pioneer’s captain, Jack Shemke, shot a goal early in the fourth quarter to make it an even 4 all. With 22 seconds remaining, Pioneer scored, pulling ahead 5 – 4. Undeterred, Dexter scored, ending regulation time in a tie.

The usually 55 minute long game turned into an endurance affair as the tie was followed by two 5-minute overtimes.

Now it was Dexter’s turn to win the sprints as Clayton Kinnard took both of them. The first 5 minutes concluded with no goals. During the second 5 minutes both teams found openings in the net leaving the score tied at 6 all. Pioneer’s Head Coach, Don Packard, talked with the team, calming nerves and focusing minds.

Next, a 3 minute sudden death overtime. No matter how hard the offense fought, the defense on both teams conquered. No change in score.

Another 3 minute sudden death overtime. Pioneer’s goalie, Matthieu Ruelle, had a record 20 saves in the game so far. Two minutes in, Dexter’s goalie, Tony Golin, came out of the goal and scored! Dexter 7, Pioneer 6. Dexter was crowned East Regional Champions. The excitement. The sting.

Pioneer and Dexter will both compete this weekend at the Michigan Water Polo State Championships in Hudsonville and Rockford. Their rivalry has pushed them to be better, stronger, faster, and more aggressive. It will help them contend with the dominant teams in the West Region of the state. And, there is a chance that they will face each other again in either the state semi-finals or finals. If they do, it will be a must-watch match.

Birmingham Groves finished in 3rd place and Skyline in 4th place for the East Region. They also advance to the State Championships on June 11th and 12th.

Awards were voted on by the coaches in the East Region division:

All East Region Coach of the Year
Don Packard, Pioneer
All East Region First team
Jack Shemke, Pioneer
Liam Herbert, Pioneer
Ben Deininger, Skyline
Sam Sterlitz, Dexter
Ryan French, Groves
Jonathan Carlson, Grand Blanc
Tony Golin, Dexter goaltender
All East Region Second team
Max Fraesr, Huron
Ben Edlund, Skyline
Leo Varitek, Dexter
Curran Tew, Seaholm
Rocco Prindle, Groves
Dane Herrick, Lake Orion
Max Zalewski, Groves goaltender
All East Region Honorable mention
Gabe Burks, Pioneer
Cam Williston, Pioneer
Evan McKelvey, Skyline
Ben Duncan, Dexter
Gavin Dawid, Saline
Mitch Mollison, Seaholm
Jack Darbonne, Groves