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MWPA Announces Regional Coaches of the Year

The Michigan Water Polo is proud to announce our five regional coaches of the year as voted upon by their peers.

The boys West coach of the year is East Grand Rapids' Raheem Brown. In the boys East region, Ann Arbor Pioneer's Don Packard is the coach of the year. On the girls side, Hotel/Okemos Madi Zink and East Grand Rapids' Justin Hulsebus are co-West regional coaches of the year. Ann Arbor Skyline's Rebecca Godek is the girls East region coach of the year.

"Madi, Raheem, Don, Rebecca and Justin are excellent examples of mentors, and coaches," secretary and web Admin Harrison Watt said. "All battled unique challenges in a COVID year, all persevered through them. We are proud to name this our group of regional coaches of the year, as they are ambassadors for our sport, and are part of our mission to grow the game."

A full breakdown of each coach is below.

East Region Girls, Rebecca Godek - Ann Arbor Skyline

Team Status: 11-12 overall, Regional Semi-Finalist, District Tournament Runner-Up, State Tournament Qualifier. Takes on #10 Birmingham Seaholm in Regional Semi's, 9:00 am, Saturday, May 22 @ Skyline.


The night before you coach a game against Rebecca Godek is like the night before getting root canal.

Zero sleep, only fear.

In reality, the MWPA's Board President is genuinely very down-to-earth. In her time as president, meetings with Godek are very real, no fluff. It's easy to see why her teams improve from beginning to end of season, which is the mark of a truly great coach. Between her genuine care for her athletes, her water polo acumen and game-planning ability Godek has earned the respect of her peers again and again.

Godek has a pair of titles under her belt, and is the last coach to be a part of a team that won state championships in the same calendar year on the boys and girls sides (2015).

Another true mark is what it's like to play a Godek-coached team twice in a season. You may get them early, but the second, third, fourth times you'll need copious amounts of grit and preparation to finish your season with a winning record against the Eagles, and most of the time, neither of those are enough.


T-West Region Girls, Madi Zink - Hotel/Okemos

Team Status: 12-5 overall, Regional Quarterfinalist. Takes on #3 Grandville in Regional Quarterfinals, 4:45 PM today, May 21 @ East Kentwood.


Try to take two proud teams, put them together and have a great deal of success. Need more context? Do it with cross town rivals. Do it (officially) a week before the season starts. Do it without your normal home pool. Do it while ALSO head coaching a team of the opposite gender during the same period. Do it when your team switches regions in the offseason and joins one of the hardest in the state on both sides. Do it when you don't get to officially start scheduling games until a week before the season starts AND you can't have home games, not even for senior night. Do it while being the youngest elected member to the MWPA Board, and a first time board member.

What hasn't Madi Zink done this year? To be frank, we shouldn't need to make any more of a case than we just did. Zink has guided the Hotel/Okemos Co-Op (Nicknamed Holtelkemos by one west side coach) to a top-six MWPA ranking, a trip to the Regional quarterfinals, and several top-ten wins.

At 22, Zink is a rising star in the MWPA as a head coach in mid-Michigan, an area of need for young and enthusiastic coaches cut from that cloth.

If anything, Zink should be inspiration for young former players everywhere to get involved with the game on this level, as a head coach, an official, assistant coach or otherwise. Her winning of this award is both a sign of great respect from her peers and a call-to-action to those former MWPA members that miss the game and want to continue to make an impact in growing the game.


T-West Region Girls, Justin Hulsebus - East Grand Rapids

Team Status: 20-0, District 2 Champion, 10-0 vs. Top Ten Teams, Regional Semi-Finalist, State Tournament Qualifier. Takes on winner of #6 Hotel/Okemos vs. #3 Grandville game in regional semi-finals.


To be honest, it always seemed to be written in the stars for Hulsebus to be a successful high school Coach.

Two years ago, he planted the seeds of success when his band of sophomores, raw in talent, high in enthusiasm, drove East Grand Rapids to the State Tournament on a very Hulsebussian brand of stifling defense.

Those sophomores are seniors, and absolute powerhouse ones at that. The Pioneers (at the time of writing) remain unbeaten, they've won a pair of 1 vs. 2 games in terms of state rankings, and they are right now a unanimous #1 in the MWPA polls where they have sat mostly untouched since they started playing.

Hulsebus, a former Rockford standout at center defender, has both dynamic offensive talent at his disposal, but as a reflection of himself, a team committed to the end of the pool that as many coaches have proved over the years, wins championships.

The Rockford grad, much like Zink, is proof that young coaches aren't just getting their feet in the door, but THRIVING in the MWPA, to the point where you're going to read about three under the age of 30 in here that are all threatening a run to the state tournament.


West Region Boys, Raheem Brown - East Grand Rapids

Team Status: 11-8 overall, Regional Quarterfinalist, District 2 runners-up, four top ten wins, second place regular season finish in District 2.


It's hard to convey the level of respect his team and parents have for him. On deck this season, parents raved. The passion for the sport was high, his care for the athletes, and his knowledge of the game make Raheem a perfect blend for a team on the rise.

The Pioneers played an exciting brand of water polo. Whether it was using his expertise as a former star goaltender in the MWPA to guide his electric energizer bunny goaltender, his ability to get the most out of his team against a scheduled STACKED with ranked opponents (11 of their 19 games came vs. top ten teams), or just helping his squad make the adjustment to playing the sport in a new season, Raheem drew great respect for his peers.

And for it, the East Grand Rapids program was bettered. No one can argue Raheem's polo acumen, but plenty of people have great polo sense. Raheem's key to success is the way his team looks up to him, the way he cares for their success beyond the walls of the pool, and the way he goes to bat for them.

In a region deep in dynamic talent, the team-oriented approach Brown brought to the table and his level of care made the sport better this year, and it will continue to do so long into the future.

A theme here: Much like Madi, Justin and Raheem, you can make an immediate impact no matter how old you are, so long as you put great care into your craft.


East Region Boys, Don Packard - Ann Arbor Pioneer

Team Status: 14-4 overall, Regional Semi-Finalist, State Tournament Qualifier, District 4 Champion, 8-4 record vs. Top Ten teams, takes on #8 Ann Arbor Skyline in Regional Semi-Finals today, May 21 @ 3:30 pm at Birmingham Seaholm.


He is a four-time coach of the year in the MWPA, a five-time state championship coach, and after a long time away from the rigors of an MWPA grind, he is back to show everyone that despite changes in the sport, he is still one of the great ones.

Think about this: Don Packard won coach of the year awards in the 1990's. We're in the 2020's. We're STILL all chasing this man (we weren't trying to age you Don, we'd have guessed mid 30's based on all our Zoom calls with you!). The game has changed so much over that span, yet he keeps adapting, growing, and dominating. To say it's impressive would be a gross understatement.

To be honest when we started writing this and thinking about Don, we wouldn't have guessed it had been that long since his absolute reign of terror over the state. He's as youthful as ever. Much like Godek, he brings a genuine kindness to the table, and an infuriating ability to learn and adapt exponentially based on the number of times you play his teams.

The Ann Arbor area is rife with great coaches, and seems to produce at least one coach of the year candidate every year, and this year Packard's Pio's are heating up at the right time. They are the District 4 champions after entering the tournament as the second seed.

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