Varsity water polo looks to come back after missing last year’s season

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Just one year ago, spring sports were taken away from teams all around the country due to the pandemic. Now, the return comes for varsity water polo to dive back into action.

This season, like usual, Forest Hills Central, Northern, and Eastern are all combining to form one team together for both varsity and JV. This means there will be a lot of bodies for head coach Dennis Neat to handle. On the other hand, Neat is not one to shy away from a challenge, coaching for both girls and boys swim and dive for FHC.

“I’ve been a player-coach and have been the Forest Hills high school girls coach on two other occasions in my 34 years working and coaching in the district. I’ve always been about fundamentals and will continue that this year,” Neat said. “I find that coaching polo gives me a diversity break from constantly putting up yardage swimming practices. Developing a game strategy and player development is so much different and provides for me a different way to coach.”

This year’s squad contains a large number of FHC students as the junior class represents most of the Rangers on the team. This year’s junior class holds four girls: Avery Verlinde, Caroline Bell, Ella Fauson, and Sofia Johnson. The senior class only has one representative this year being Rachel Schenk, who is also a very profound wrestler while also bolstering a 4.5 GPA.

The combination of all three schools to form one team does not seem to affect the members of the team in a negative way at all. Junior Sofia Johnson welcomes members from other schools to the squad and embraces the challenge of working with a close rival.

“The dynamic between schools is very welcoming. Girls from each respective school spend more time with each other individually, and there is a little divide between the schools,” Sofia said. “However, we come together nicely without drama or excessive competitiveness.”

Forest Hills will have quite the road schedule this upcoming season as the team will travel for 7 out of the 11 games they play. The season starts with a tournament hosted by East Kentwood high school. Afterward, the girls will travel to Grand Haven to take on the Buccaneers in their first single opponent game of the season.

“The game is dependent on speed, passing, and ball-handling ability. The formation is simple, 3-3 [3 high, 3 low] and drive to open areas to receive the ball,” Neat said. “Player movement and handling passes will allow the team to have better shot selections.”

Next up, Forest Hills will come back home to host Grand Ledge in the first appearance of the year at the Forest Hills Aquatic Center. Then, FH will head back on the bus to travel to the first district seeding games of the year.

The rest of April remains very busy for the girls as they travel three more times out of their five games left in the month. The first game of the month has Forest Hills hitting the road in a match-up with Portage Central. The second game of the five remains at home for FH as they host the Bulldogs of Grandville. The next two games for the girls see them traveling twice as they face off with both Zeeland West and Hudsonville. The month concludes when Forest Hills faces off with the Jenison Wildcats.

“Most of the away games are special tournaments. Otherwise, we have just about the same number of home and away games. If we had a different pool configuration then we might be able to host some of these other events that we end up traveling to. It’s always better to play in facilities that are designed to host these special events. Maybe someday we can build a new pool and give up that environment to host special events,” said Neat when talking about if he felt that the number of away games could affect the team overall.

The month leading into playoffs only holds two more contests before Forest Hills is thrown into more treacherous waters. The first game is yet another district seeding game that sees the girls traveling for their last regular season away game. The last game of the regular season will have Forest Hills host West Ottawa before they rush into Districts, which will be held at Rockford high school.