Boys Water Polo: Sandburg’s Veldman earns Player of the Year
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media June 14, 2012 9:18PM
Sandburg’s Matt Veldman is the 2012 SouthtownStar Boys Water Polo Player of the Year. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:07AM
Sandburg coach Jim Caliendo had a bit of a dilemma as the water polo season kicked off this spring.
Matt Veldman had thrived in the defensive hole his junior year, but the Eagles’ best defender also was the best option to replace last season’s star, Erik Niemeier, in the hole offensively.
It turned out to be a good problem to have as Veldman excelled in whatever role he was needed, racking up 152 goals in his senior season and leading Sandburg to a third-place finish in the state tournament.
“Matt enjoyed playing all over,” Caliendo said. “It was a bit frustrating at times trying to figure out where to put him, but it kind of made the season more fun.”
The Southland’s most versatile player, Veldman also was the area’s best, earning him the title of 2012 SouthtownStar Boys Water Polo Player of the Year.
“It’s a really cool feeling to be recognized,” Veldman said. “This season was a lot of fun and it was an amazing feeling to go out the way we did, winning a state trophy and winning our last game (the state third-place game against Lockport).”
With Niemeier, the 2011 SouthtownStar Player of the Year, having graduated, Veldman knew he would have to take on a bigger role offensively this season.
The challenge didn’t intimidate him. It excited him.
“Last year, I was a little tentative,” he said. “Everyone looked to Eric. I knew I’d have to take that role, and I was ready for it. Last year, I only played the hole guard. I wanted to play other positions, and it was a lot of fun playing all over the place.”
With Veldman’s willingness to play wherever he was needed, Caliendo was able to mix and match. If an opponent had a strong hole player, Veldman could slide into his familiar role at defensive hole. If the Eagles’ offense needed to be in high gear, Veldman played the hole.
“Matt is the type of kid that likes that kind of challenge,” Caliendo said. “It was like putting together a puzzle depending on what each opponent presented us, and Matt liked putting together the puzzle.”
Veldman came through in a big way to help the Eagles vanquish rival Stagg in a sectional final on May 12 and get back to state.
In that game, Veldman led the offense with three goals. And when Sandburg was in desperate need of stops late, Caliendo moved Veldman to defensive hole.
Matched up with one of the area’s most dangerous offensive players in Stagg’s Juan Valdez, Veldman came through with two key steals as the Eagles pulled out an 11-10 win.
“That was a really tough game,” Veldman said. “At one point, we thought it might be the end. In the last few minutes coach Cal said ‘I want you on Valdez and you’re going to have to shut him down.’ I was a little nervous, but it got me excited. We pulled it out.”
The Eagles advanced to state and won twice. Sandburg also nearly pulled off a semifinal upset of eventual state champion Lyons before falling 12-11.
Veldman scored seven goals in a quarterfinal win over Fremd.
The state run completed a remarkable aquatics season for Veldman, who helped the Eagles’ swim team to a fourth-place finish at state.
As he moves on to swim at the University of Chicago, Veldman knows he’s left his mark at Sandburg.
“It says a lot about Sandburg as a whole that we’ve won four state (water polo) trophies in five years,” he said. “Our seniors, we really wanted to solidify that Sandburg is here to stay and that teams can be scared of us when they play us. I think we did that. It feels great to leave that legacy.”