Profile: Junior Jack Shemke helps lead Pioneer water polo into the State Finals

Jack Shemke and his Pioneer teammates hit the biggest stage this weekend at the Water Polo State Finals at East Lansing High School. And while the junior knew his team had plenty of talent heading into the season he admits that reaching the Final Four wasn’t a lock.

“Coming into the season, I didn’t really know what to expect because we had lost several seniors and a new coach was coming in,” said Shemke. “I knew that we had the potential to do good in the season, and our main goal was to make the state tournament. Through all of our hard work and determination, we were able to accomplish this goal despite our losses.”

Shemke was recently named to the East All-Region Second Team after helping lead Pioneer to a second-place finish at Regionals and a spot in the Final Four.

Like his teammates, Shemke credits much of the success to the Pioneer coaching staff.

“One of the biggest keys to our success is our coaches,” he says. “We have four amazing coaches: Don, Evan, Sabrina and Jesse. They all have different skill sets.

“The addition of Sabrina and Jesse has been crucial because Sabrina helps train the goalies and Jesse does lifting with us.”

Chemistry is another key to their great success.

“All of the starters have been playing together for two or more years, so we all play very well together,” Shemke says. “We know what type of passes we want, how close to put the ball, etc.”

And while the team can be “goofy,” they know when it’s time to lock down and focus on the task at hand – whether in a game, a practice or in the classroom.

“We all joke around, but when it’s time to get serious, we get serious,” Shemke says. “Also, we have great sportsmanship and usually don’t get down after a tough loss. This is a really good trait because it allows us to bounce back and get focused on the next game almost immediately.”

Shemke, like most kids, grew up playing several different sports – some stuck, others not so much.   

“I have swam and played several other sports since I was very young,” he says. “Water polo has elements of several other sports that I have played, so I thought that it would be really fun to try it out. Also my mom and other friends urged me to play.”

Listening to your mom is always a good idea. Soon, Shemke was taking water polo very seriously. He plays with Wolverine, a club in Ann Arbor, during the spring and summer. Last summer, he traveled to California for a big tournament with Wolverine and called it a “great experience.”

“It was very fun and really cool competing with some of the best teams around the country,” said Shemke, who says the Ann Arbor area’s reputation for strong swimming has splashed on over to water polo (Huron and Skyline also qualified for the State Finals). “I think that water polo is good in this area because Ann Arbor has always been a good city for swimming and naturally that transitions into good polo. Also, Wolverine is very useful for off season polo and definitely helps everyone improve.”

And Shemke is quite a gifted swimmer. He has been swimming since he was 5-years-old and when he was 8 years old he won the 100 free at WISC (summer) Championships by 10 seconds.

“I started at Liberty Lightning and once I realized that I was pretty good at swimming I joined Club Wolverine,” he said. “I swam at Club Wolverine until high school started. My best events are the 50, 100, 500 freestyle. Last year, I didn’t make any state cuts, but I made 3 MISCA cuts and I’m hoping to get one this upcoming season.”

But while he enjoys swimming and being part of that impressive Pioneer program, water polo is THE sport for Jack Shemke.  

“I definitely prefer water polo over swimming,” he says. “Swimming is fun, but water polo adds a lot more elements to it, and is more of a team sport than swimming. I think that if I become good enough, I will play at the collegiate level, and that would be really fun.”