By Bethany Williston / For WLAA
On Saturday, June 11, Pioneer faced Grand Haven in the bronze medal game for the Men’s Water Polo State Championships. In the Fall of 2019, Pioneer finished 4th at the Men’s Water Polo State Championships. Not since 2013 had they finished higher, when they took 3rd place in the State. In contrast, Grand Haven had never made it this far into the State Championships. Both teams wanted the win.
The Grand Haven sprinter took the ball first, but the ball soon fell into Pioneer’s hands as Jack Shemke scored the first goal. Shemke’s second attempt fell just short of the net. Fortunately, Gabe Burks was there to push the ball past the goalkeeper, making the score 2-0. Grand Haven scored next. Shemke earned another assist as he passed the ball to Liam Herbert who pulled his arm back and, like a slingshot, threw the ball into the net.
Grand Haven scored again. The first quarter ended in a close game, 3-2 Pioneer.
The second quarter again began with a sprint win by Grand Haven. Grand Haven received a 5-meter penalty kick and scored and then scored again, moving into the lead: 3-4. Shemke earned a hat trick with his next goal. Grand Haven proved they deserved to be in this game. They scored, yet again leading by one goal. A miss by the Grand Haven team led to a steal by Pioneer goalie Matthieu Ruelle. Ruelle hurled the ball to Shemke who threw it to Cam Williston who passed it to Liam Herbert, who scored. At halftime the teams were tied 5 all.
Pioneer proved their desire to win in the third quarter. Alex Farmer won the opening sprint and soon after scored. Farmer shot the ball again but it bounced off the goal bar towards Williston. He quickly pushed the ball into the net. Matt Debona assisted Shemke in scoring the next goal. Just as the Pioneer spectators felt optimistic about winning the game, Grand Haven scored again. Ruelle continued to defend the goal with the help of Luke Packard, Zach Edwards, and the rest of the first string.
Pioneer was up by two points entering the final quarter. Both teams had played in overtime earlier in the tournament. Neither wanted to go there again. Grand Haven won the sprint and scored the next two goals. Pioneer’s advantage was gone. The score was tied at 8. With 2 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the final quarter, Grand Haven fouled within the goal box. Burks took the 5-meter. As he had done throughout the tournament, Burks found space around the goalkeeper.
The Pioneer spectator section erupted with cheers. One minute later, starter Herbert was ejected from the game for his third exclusion. The final 64 seconds crept along with the Pioneer players making safe passes until the shock clock sounded, switching possession to Grand Haven. Pioneer immediately stole the ball back and played keep-a-way until the game clock signaled the end.
Pioneer kept their one goal lead to win the bronze!