By Terry Jacoby/weloveannarbor.com
Henri Schneehagen is fun to watch with the ball in his hands. The Pioneer water polo player seems to be plotting when he gets the ball. He plays relaxed, doesn’t force things and surveys what the defense is giving him – or isn’t giving him.
Sometimes, he does get the ball and lets it fly. Other times, he takes his time and looks for an opening to exploit. And most of the time, whichever way he goes, Henri Schneehagen fires the ball into the back of the opponent’s net.
“When I get the ball I try to stay focused and look at how the goalie is positioned,” he says. “My junior year I had a lot of fast backhanded shots that sometimes were flashy but this year I try to just be effective without the flash.”
And, boy, is he effective.
The talented senior has been effective since the start of his junior year. He had scored at least one goal in 52 straight games for Pioneer – apparently, he doesn’t have any bad days or take any games off. He’s a scoring machine that runs every time the switch gets flipped.
The streak ended at 52 when Pioneer recently played a weaker opponent and used the game to play more of the younger and inexperienced players. Schneehagen, not surprisingly, had no problem with the streak coming to an end.
“I am no longer afraid to shoot,” he says of his incredible streak. “I have a poster on my wall with a quote from Wayne Gretzky that says, ‘you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.’ I now understand the game much better than when I started.
Schneehagen isn’t afraid to pass, either – in or out of the water. He passes along much of the credit for his offensive success to his teammates. “They look for me and pass to me,” he said of his fellow Pioneers. “They deserve a lot of the credit for giving me the ball when I am in a good position to score. And I try to do the same for them.”
As a team captain, Schneehagen says it’s his responsibility to help not only lead by example but help instill confidence in the younger players.
“I do like to score, but I will readily pass the ball to a teammate who has a shot rather than have my own glory,” he says.
Sounds like the perfect teammate and captain.
Schneehagen, 17, the son of Jason and Lorenna Schneehagen, began playing water polo at a very early age.
“I started pretend playing water polo on summer swim team at age 5 and always remember loving the last half hour of practice when all the kids would get to play a super basic, but super fun version of water polo,” he said. “It was more of a free for all with a ball.”
Schneehagen, who lived in Virginia at the time, couldn’t find a team to play for down south. “When we moved here my freshman year of high school I knew right away I wanted to try out for the team,” he said. “I had soccer tryouts that same day (I had been doing travel soccer for awhile and had been training with the Pioneer team preseason) but I went to water polo tryouts first. When my mom came to get me, I told her I was quitting soccer and that water polo was my new sport.”
He got plenty of support from his new Pioneer teammates.
“A few of the older kids said they thought I had some talent when I first started on the Pioneer team as a freshman even though I wasn’t so sure,” he said. “I could hardly walk from muscle soreness my first week of practice learning to tread water constantly for hours.
“But water polo is the best sport I have played, and I managed to not drown.”
Schneehagen was moved up to varsity the end of his freshmen year but never saw any game action.
“As a sophomore, I got more experience but I really lacked confidence,” he said. “And as one of the youngest players on the varsity team, I wasn’t always the first option to pass to for older teammates.”
Last year, was his breakout season.
“I played almost every single minute of every game,” he said. “This was the beginning of me keeping track of my goals and I scored in all 37 games.”
Schneehagen takes water polo very seriously, even though he clearly enjoys playing the sport. “I try to eat right, stay hydrated, and mentally prepare for games,” he says. “I go to bed early.
“I am a calm person and staying calm in the pool is crucial to being a good player. I often joke or talk to my opponents in the pool during downtimes in a friendly way even if I don’t know them. I think being a calm and friendly person who sees the fun in the game helps you in this sport.”
Schneehagen, who also plays water polo for Club Wolverine, believes this Pioneer team is talented enough to make some waves in the state playoffs. “We are getting stronger and we are developing all of our players better instead of just a few,” he said. “Now when we win, it’s a genuine team effort and not just a few guys scoring the most points. I am not scoring nearly as much this year but I feel great about it because the team is much stronger and really developing. We have a lot of team chemistry and really enjoy hanging out together.”
Schneehagen, who has scored a 3.9 GPA in the classroom and made Academic All-American for USA Water Polo this year, plans on majoring in computer science or mechanical engineering at either Michigan or Purdue.
“I thought about playing in college but decided I just want to play club,” he says. “Club will let me focus on college but also meet new people, stay in shape and continue playing the sport I really love.”