Countdown To Preseason Polls: Pioneering Ahead With East Grand Rapids
East Grand Rapids, Mich. - The Pioneers are in an extraordinary position.
While most girls teams have turned over their varsity rosters since the 2019 season, former Rockford star and now Head Coach of the EGR girls squad Justin Hulsebus is working with a group he largely knows.
"I'm tremendously excited for this upcoming season," Hulsebus said. "This will be the first time in many years that we have an older team. We finished sixth place two years ago when we had a rotation of 11 freshmen/sophomores and two seniors. Those 11 youngins are now juniors/seniors with the addition to more training, conditioning and underclassmen help."
An all-state first teamer, Hulsebus has an extensive history in the MWPA as a player who played in big games. A member of three state championship teams at Rockford (2009-10, 2012), Hulsebus was an electrifying talent for the Rams as a two-meter defender.
Not only does Hulsebus have big-game experience, he also played collegiately at Grand Valley State. His collegiate experience becomes pertinent when you consider the Pioneers are going to send three of their current roster onto the next level following the 2021 campaign.
"I have 3 talented seniors who will be playing collegiate water polo," Hulsebus said. "Annika Lampen, our starting goalie for four seasons will be playing water polo at Bucknell. Kamryn Kerr, our big-time lefty is playing water polo at Grove City College. Claire Witting, our leading goal scorer for the previous season will be playing water polo at Indiana University."
To the Pioneers, their experience in the water is just a small part of why the Pioneers have high hopes for the upcoming season.
"All three of these players have put in a lot of time and effort to better their craft," Hulsebus said. "They've all grown as water polo players, but what's stood out the most is that they've grown as leaders and role models."
With so many unknowns, expect EGR to lean on experience of working their way into the State Tournament two years ago.
"Bringing back an older roster is nice because you have an idea of who will fill each role," Hulsebus said. "We have a talented senior class with each one bringing a special aspect to the team. We're bringing back a strong defensive team with the ability to push it on the counter attack."
Since 2005, five teams have combined for 14 state championships. East Grand Rapids, a program on the rise, is looking for their first trip to the title game since their 2005 Championship.
With Water Polo in East Grand Rapids rising, it begs the question of where this helps the game grow?
Growing Water Polo has always been on the brain for Hulsebus, who also works with Third Coast Water Polo Club. But to him, it's not just about playing in high school, it's changing the mindset of when kids can start Water Polo.
"I think one of the best opportunities for the Grand Rapids water polo area to grow is age group water polo," Hulsebus said. "Kids are already doing age group swimming at 5 years old, why not water polo? Also getting other schools who have swimming pools to start water polo at a high school level would be great."
Fans can check out playing opportunities outside of the MWPA near them by visiting the Offseason Playing Opportunities Page.