Braving high surf

Duncan MacLean • Mar 23, 2018 at 11:49 PM

GRAND HAVEN TWP. — The Grand Haven girls water polo team has been working through a rebuilding period for a few seasons now. Friday, they kicked off what looks to be the final phase as they hosted the Shootout on the Shore tournament under first-year head coach Kaci Weibenga.

The home tournament was the first live action for the 2018 Bucs, who are looking to turn a corner with a solid crop of senior leaders and a promising group of junior players hoping to rise to the occasion.

“The goal of this weekend was gaining experience and learning to work together as a team,” Weibenga said. “It is a new group with a lot of younger players. It is a rebuilding year for the program, but they have had a lot of rebuilding years the last couple of years. We know now that we are starting here but have a lot of potential. We need to get the girls to see that potential, too.”

The potential was evident at the start of their season-opening contest against Zeeland on Friday, as Grand Haven showed early signs of improvement under their new coach.

Jenna Benson led the way with both of the Bucs’ goals in a 10-2 loss to high-powered Zeeland. The visitors struck first early in the opening quarter, but Bensen answered shortly after to tie the game at one. From there, it was all Zeeland into halftime, as they netted six more goals for a 7-1 lead.

In the second half, the Bucs cleaned up on defense and slowed down Zeeland’s transition game to stop the bleeding, allowing just three goals the rest of the way. Bensen netted her second goal as the fourth quarter wound down

Progress, however, was the key in the early season tournament.

“Bensen is a senior captain and a huge leader on the team. She does a great job,” Weibenga said. “Alex Bergman has a lot of talent, just getting her to believe she has the talent I see in her will be big.

“I also have a couple juniors, Brooke Zellman and Crimson Draeger, that are both up and coming. They will be superstars next year. Seeing those girls learning what it means to be in a leadership position and learning to keep moving all the time is good to see.

“Our defense was totally different today than it was last week. Even just in hip placement and where you should be in relation to the ball and goal. Just getting through that sort of thing down looked great. Now, we just need to get some more shots off on offense. I think they did a great job today.”

The key for this year’s team reaching their potential is confidence, according to Weibenga.

“We play out of fear,” she said. “Having the ball and being confident in yourself and being able to protect it for a late drive, draw the foul, or get a pass off is our next step.

“My goal this year would be that the juniors we have are ready to take on the leadership roles next year and keep the momentum going. We have a good senior bunch, but it is never too early for these juniors to step up.”

Weibenga, who also serves as the Spring Lake girls head swim coach in the fall, has a long history of coaching between the lane lines but is in her first dip back into water polo.

“It has been a while,” she said. “I spent eight years in the swimming community coaching down in Florida, so coming back and making sure that the things that were important in polo back when I played are still the same. It has been good so far.”

The Shootout at the Shore continues today with some premier local and far-flung programs in attendance, and Weibenga hopes to take advantage.

“Just to have these girls sit down and watch some of the teams we will see later in the season this weekend will be great,” Weibenga said. “To have them identify their top shooters and know their fastest girls and have that insight going into games I think will be huge.”

The Bucs are scheduled to play three games today, beginning at 8 a.m. vs. Birmingham Seaholm, then taking on Forest Hills at 2:40 p.m. and concluding with Jenison at 7:40 p.m.

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