The weekend began with an exciting game as Pioneer edged out Zeeland to win their preliminary round of the Water Polo State Championships in East Lansing on Friday night.
Pioneer started out a little sluggish, trailing their opponent, 3-1 in the first quarter. At the half, the score was 5-3 Zeeland.
However, the smaller, fitter Pioneer team, fueled by a pep talk from Coach Don Packard, outplayed their larger rivals in the second half.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Jack Shemke’s second goal pulled the two teams even, 8-8 and his third goal pushed the Pioneers ahead, 9-8. Soon after, Zeeland evened the score at 9-9. With 2:04 left in the game, Henri Schneehagen scored his fourth goal of the night and the Pioneers won 10-9.
In addition to Schneehagen and Shemke, Aidan McCoy earned a pair of goals. Cam Williston scored one goal and won three of the four sprints that begin each quarter. Goalie Mathieu Ruelle made six saves. Additionally, the strong offensive passing and defensive persistence by Luke Packard, Tristan Serr, Liam Herbert, Jack Debona, and Alex Farmer contributed to the win.
With the number one and two teams all winning on Friday night, they played each other Saturday morning: Hudsonville vs. Pioneer and Dexter vs. Rockford.
Pioneer trailed Hudsonville 9-1 at halftime. As he has done throughout the season, Coach Packard used this large point difference to play the non-starters. Consisting of sophomores and one freshman, they got experience playing against the best team in Michigan. Determined to show their skill, they battled the Hudsonville varsity players and sophomore Ryan Hume fired a goal from 6 meters away to score the second of two goals. Hudsonville won, setting up a first seed east versus first seed west gold medal game.
Meanwhile, the two second seeds, Pioneer and Rockford, played each other for third place.
Like Friday night, it was another exciting game. The two teams were tied 4-4 after the first quarter. Rockford led at the half with 6-5. In the third quarter, Pioneer persevered and surpassed Rockford, 7–6. Rockford surged in the final quarter earning two goals to lead 8-7. With just a minute left in the game, Rockford scored a 9th goal. Pioneer tried to catch up but ran out of time. Final score 9–7 Rockford.
Ruelle saved eight goals. Schneehagen, Shemke, and McCoy all scored a pair of goals while Williston scored a solo goal and won all four sprints. While disappointed to end their season with a loss, the Pioneers 4th place finish was their highest finish since 2013.
All-State Season teams and State Championship All-Tournament teams were awarded:
Don Packard: State Coach of the Year
Henri Schneehagen: All-State season 2nd team, State Championship All-Tournament 1st team
Jack Shemke, All-State season 2nd team
Aiden McCoy: State Championship All-Tournament 2nd team
Pioneer finishes their season with 18 Academic All-State Honorees, the most of any water polo team in the state: Gabe Almeida, Jack DeBona, Matt DeBona, Zach Edwards, Alex Farmer, Liam Herbert, Ryan Hume, Ari Jacob, Aidan McCoy, Luke Packard, Caleb Rice, Henri Schneehagen, Tristan Serr, Alex Serr, Jack Shemke Jack Wilkening, Cam Williston, and Jackson Wilmer.
State Champions Hudsonville
Runners up Dexter
3rd place Rockford
4th place Pioneer
5th place Huron
6th place Zeeland
7th place Grand Haven
8th place Skyline