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Posted on Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 11:25 a.m.

How partial nudity can be a defensive tactic and "other" sports predictions

By Pete Cunningham

Even the most dedicated moms and girlfriends have to admit a little confusion when watching their first (or 50th) water polo game. With top-ranked Pioneer hosting defending state champs Huron Wednesday in a rematch of last year’s state championship game, there’s no time like the present to shed a little light on some intricacies of the lesser-known sport.

Despite what it might look like at times, players aren’t in too much danger of drowning. Contact with an opposing player is illegal…until one gains possession of the ball. Then nearly everything outside of palm-to-face dunks and waterboarding is fair game.

“Contact that’s below the neck and shoulders on the offensive player who has possession of the ball is considered legal contact,” said Huron coach Chris Keenan of the abuse offensive players endure. “You can’t hit them, but you can contact them, hold them or hold their arm down in an attempt to get to the ball.”

What goes on above the surface is intense. Below is downright brutal.

“There’s a lot of rules concerning what you can and can’t do, but the refs can’t see under water,” Huron senior Keeley Maher said. “There’s two levels of water polo, above the water and below.

“We played a few teams from Canada who were pretty nasty. Most of the time it’s not bad, but every once and a while it is.”

Canucks. Just can’t resist stirring up a scrum when a body of water is involved, frozen or otherwise. What’s the countermeasure to such dirty play?

“You try to get as tight a suit as you possibly can, so they can’t reach in and pull on your suit,” said Maher.

Reach in? Pull? For the sake of all the moms and girlfriends in the stands Wednesday, let’s be thankful the extracurriculars stay below the surface. As for the tighter-than-tight suits, solid strategy, but it sometimes results in unpleasant scenery, forcing coaches to take a page out the drug czar book and remind players: Crack kills.

“Whenever I see that I tell the players to pull up their suits,” said Keenan who laughingly admits he’s often fighting a losing battle. “I don’t condone it and I try to stop it, but I can’t control the hundreds of kids around the state.”


My record for last week’s picks was 6-1, while the readers were 3-3-1. The previous week’s tie prevented any sort of bragging rights, but now my winning streak has officially begun, and so will my gloating. Let’s see if I can extend it with this week’s picks.

MONDAY Bloomfield Hills Marian at Pioneer, girls field hockey: Earlier this year I asked Pioneer coach Jane Nixon when the last time one of her teams lost, and she couldn’t remember. She wasn’t being cocky, she honestly couldn’t remember. Bloomfield Hills just made that question a lot easier, beating the four-time defending state champions 2-1 Thursday. Can they do it again under the Hollway lights? I say no. Pioneer, 3-1.

TUESDAY Skyline at Chelsea, boys tennis: Chelsea swept the doubles flights on the way to claiming the SEC White title Wednesday, while Skyline was busy getting a smackdown laid on them by the likes of Pioneer and Huron at the SEC Red meet. Skyline will be better for facing such competition in the long run, but for now, the Bulldogs’ experience could be overwhelming. Chelsea, 5-3.

WEDNESDAY Huron at Pioneer, boys water polo: Huron has proven that even with all the seniors gone from last year’s state championship squad, this year’s team - particularly David Hasegan, Jon Geldermans, and Keeley Maher - can pick up the slack offensively. Whether or not they can stop Seiji Osawa & Co. in a rematch of last year’s state championship game, however, is a horse of a different color. Pioneer, 10-7.

THURSDAY Huron at Pioneer, boys soccer: Huron is 7-1 and its top two goal scorers -- Ben Patterson (19) and Mario Teixeira (10) -- are as lethal as any combo in the area, but they haven’t played in many tough games. As a matter of fact, they haven’t played very many games period. The Pioneers may have five times the losses, but they’ve also had almost twice as many games, and against much better completion. The Pioneers are battle tested and well-versed at dealing with the ups and downs of tight matches against quality opponents. Pioneer, 3-2.

Greenhills at Washtenaw Whippets, girls field hockey: Greenhills scored in the last four minutes of the teams’ first meeting, a 1-1 tie. The rematch is on the Whippets home field (Chelsea), and Washtenaw will have its leading goal scorer from last year, Diana Uihlein, who missed the first game, back in the lineup. Whippets, 2-0.

FRIDAY Milan at New Boston Huron, boys soccer: The score of the teams’ initial meeting, a 2-0 New Boston victory, suggests the Huron League rivals might be close to evenly matched. Shots on goal, however, tell a different story, as the Big Reds’ Ian Darling made 10 saves to keep his team competitive, while the offense only managed a single shot on goal. New Boston Huron, 4-0.

SATURDAY Pioneer, Skyline, Milan, Huron, Chelsea, Saline, Greenhills, Dexter, and about 35 other teams at the Portage Invitational, boys cross country: What’s dumber than betting against the field or an individual in a race with hundreds of participants? Parlaying that bet into a team/individual pick. Of course the pick seems much less risky when considering Pioneer’s Nathan Karr was the fastest underclassmen finisher at last year’s Division 1 state meet. A meet Pioneer won. Still, double or nothing parlays are risky. Nathan Karr/Pioneer.

Now it's your turn to play along by making picks below. If the readers beat me, I’ll subject myself to a conditioning drill of choice from one of the teams that I incorrectly picked to lose.







Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached by e-mail at, or by phone at 734-623-2561. You can follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.