Profile: Pioneer’s Mathieu Ruelle has found a home in and out of the water

Mathieu Ruelle, only a sophomore, has been saving his best for this season and his continued progress could mean big things in this young man’s future.

But it’s the present the Pioneer water polo goalie is focusing on at the moment. And while he has been a force in the water for the Pioneers, Mathieu has found a home not only with Pioneer water polo but in Ann Arbor with a special and growing group of friends and supporters.

“I am very proud of my roots,” said Mathieu, who came to the United States from France with his family when he was just 3½ years old. “I couldn’t speak English and was now in a foreign country where I did not know anyone. I learned everything from scratch.”

But Mathieu soon made a connection, then another and another.

“I met good people here,” he says. “I am glad to live in Ann Arbor.”

Everything in Mathieu’s young life starts at home. He is very close to his older sister, Chloe (18), and younger brother, Jules (10). You can hear the pride in his voice when he speaks about his siblings.

“My sister is a freshman at MSU and is enrolled in the school of education,” he says. “As a big sister, she is a great role model. I also have a brother in the fifth grade at Lawton Elementary.”

And at the head of the table are his parents – Nathalie and Stephane Ruelle.

“I live with mom and dad who are my first supporters,” he says. “Because we do not have any family members in the U.S., I often share my (water polo) games with my maternal grandparents in France. They are my fans too. And it is important for me, because we are very far from each other.”

One of those connections Mathieu made early on in Ann Arbor was with Matteo Procoppe. The Procoppe’s, who also are French, moved to Ann Arbor when Mathieu was in fifth grade. Matteo and his brother were exceptional water polo players at Skyline and their interest and excitement for the sport certainly got Mathieu’s attention.

“Matteo was a very skilled player who had played for Skyline,” said Mathieu. “He pushed me to try water polo with Club Wolverine.”

Mathieu had one big problem – he wasn’t a very good swimmer at the time. “I didn’t start swimming until sixth grade and I was very weak,” he says.

But he wanted to play water polo and jumped in the water with both feet – even if he sank to the bottom at first. “I will quote a friend who says water polo is a ‘mix of swimming, basketball and rugby,’ ” he says. “I like it because it is different from regular team sports. I love to be in the water and I like it because it is a tough sport to play.”

Mathieu isn’t afraid of challenges. He was moved up to varsity this year as a sophomore because both of Pioneer’s goalies from the previous year had graduated. Mathieu, who is over 6 feet tall and lean, worked really hard at Wolverine Water Polo in the off-season and with Coach Sabrina during the Pioneer season to improve.

His improvement over the past year, and even during the season, has been impressive. He says part of his success is because of his positive attitude inside and outside the pool.

“I’m very serious during practice and I’ve learned a lot from others,” he says. Don, Sabrina and Jesse, our coaches, help me a lot in that field. I am very thankful to all my coaches, especially to Coach Sabrina who pushes me to my limits.

“You cannot be lazy if you want to excel. I played a lot of water polo during my free time and joined Club Wolverine during the summer. Even when I go back to France, I go to the gym to exercise. I try to keep my body in shape.”

The Pioneers have been in great shape all season and head to the Final Four State Finals on Nov. 15-16 at East Lansing HS. After four years of not advancing out of Regionals, Pioneer finally qualified for the State Tournament after finishing second last weekend at Birmingham Seaholm.

“You always have some lows during the season but the highs lift everything up,” says Mathieu. “Last week during the Regionals, I was awarded with an Honorable Mention award. I still cannot believe that. It is a huge reward for me.”

He also says just being on the team is a great reward – even a privilege. “I am happy to be part of the PHS water polo team because I found a stable group of boys there that I can call friends. The coach and all the players are so good to me and very supportive. We work well together and empower each other.”

Mathieu now swims the 50, 100 free and 100 back for PHS. He plays water polo for Club Wolverine in the off-season and last year joined the 16-U for the Junior Olympics in California. He is an excellent student and is a member of the PHS choir Cantare and Chorale. And, most importantly, he has a strong family base and a growing group of friends and supporters to help him along his journey.

How do you say success in French? la victoire! la réussite! la Mathieu!