By Bethany Williston / For WLAA
After winning their first game in the Men’s Water Polo State Championships against Rockford, Pioneer faced defending champions Hudsonville High School in the semi-finals. Hudsonville hadn’t lost a game this season. Their wins were dominating, always winning in double digits while the opposing team would be held to single digits or none at all. Hudsonville’s narrowest win had been early in the season to Pioneer 10-6.
The game started as usual for Hudsonville. They won the sprint and scored two goals. When the ball was fumbled in front of the Hudsonville goal, Alex Farmer shoved it past the goalkeeper, making it 1-2. Pioneer’s Gabe Burks scored on an assist from Cam Williston to tie it up. Hudsonville shot a fast goal to pull ahead again. A violation within the penalty box led to a 5-meter (like a penalty kick in soccer) for Pioneer where Burks aimed the ball in the upper corner and scored, ending the first quarter in a tie: 3 all.
Hudsonville attacked the 2nd quarter winning the sprint and scoring two goals to pull ahead of Pioneer. Another penalty led to a hat trick for Burks as he shot the ball past the goalkeeper. At halftime, the Eagles led by one.
The typically aggressive play by Hudsonville grew violent in the 3rd quarter. Underwater and above the water punches flew, the drowning was fierce, and kicks to the throats led to one Hudsonville player being ejected from the game.
Still, Pioneer managed to score an impressive and surprising goal. While being held underwater by two Hudsonville players and with only his hand holding the ball above the water, sophomore Burks saw the goalie come towards him. He knew that the goal must be in the direction of the goalie. He shot, and scored.
The fourth quarter began with the Pioneers at a disadvantage; the score was 5-9. Even though the play had been rough and the Hudsonville players were larger and heavier than the Pioneer players, Pioneer persevered. Williston won the final sprint. Soon after, Hudsonville scored their final goal of the game.
However, Pioneer fought until the end. Halfway through the quarter, Jack Shemke took the ball down the pool and passed to Farmer who scored. Soon after, Shemke capitalized on the mistake the Hudsonville goalie made in leaving the goal open, and scored. The game ended in 7-10.
Pioneer’s goalkeeper, Matthieu Ruelle, had a stellar game making nine saves. The whole set position was played by Luke Packard who repeatedly blocked Hudsonville’s MVP and largest player on the team, keeping him to only two goals. Versatile Liam Herbert was on the defense, helping to contain the Hudsonville players. Zach Edwards adeptly defended against the bigger players as well.
In winning the semi-final game, Hudsonville advanced to the finals against Dexter. Pioneer advanced to the bronze medal game versus Grand Haven.
Pioneer lost to Hudsonville by the smallest margin – 3 points – of the season, including the championship game that Hudsonville won against Dexter the following day.