Punahou keeps ILH water polo streak going

Punahou’s Danielle Kauahi reached for the ball over Kamehameha’s Laakea Dedrick in the first quarter on Friday. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.

When Punahou’s streak of Interscholastic League of Honolulu girls water polo titles began, Christina Hicks was 4, with no concept whatsoever of throwing a ball into a net while treading water.

On Friday, Hicks helped the Buffanblu emphatically pick up an 11th straight league crown, 9-1 against host Kamehameha.

“I didn’t even know what water polo was until I was about 12 years old,” said Hicks, who had three of her team’s scores.

“I started playing water polo in seventh grade for Punahou,” the sophomore said. “I had no idea that I just happened to be going to the school that had this giant legacy and awesome team. So I got pretty lucky. And we try our best not to focus on the legacy, because that’s just going to add too much extra stress and anxiety to practices and games.”

Punahou’s goalkeeper Sarah Perez saved a shot by Kamehameha in the fourth quarter. / PHOTO BY BRUCE ASATO basato@staradvertiser.com

Punahou, newly healthy after some recent illnesses and injuries, will try to defend its 10 straight state titles back at Kamehameha in two weeks. Tournament play (away from the University of Hawaii for the first time in several years) begins on April 30 and continues May 3-5. If the heavily favored Buffanblu and Warriors (who’d both already clinched berths) win their preliminary-round games, they’ll meet in the state title game for a fourth straight year. Punahou prevailed in its closest final yet in 2017, 3-2, saving a shot by the Warriors in the final seconds.

The three 2018 regular-season meetings between the rivals were nearly as close, with Punahou prevailing by two, one, and three goals over the last couple months.

But Friday’s match was no contest, with Punahou snuffing out the majority of Kamehameha possessions for turnovers.

“If you don’t (bottle them up), they have just too many weapons,” Punahou coach Ken Smith said. “They have too many people who can shoot the ball, and so we have to control those people really, really well, and I thought we did a good job on that.”

Hicks was joined in the scoring column by by Nai‘a Young-Kingsbury and Dillyn Lietzke (two), and Anu Ledesma and Dani Kauahi (one). Junior goalkeeper Sarah Perez made six saves.

Kamehameha coach Randy Bart noted his players, a number of whom have assumed new roles this season, were unused to the spotlight and pressure of such a situation. Goalkeeper Mikaila Ng was not as effective as some of her previous outings against the Buffanblu.

Punahou was exceptionally aggressive on defense, but Kamehameha could not or did not take advantage with backdoor opportunities on overplays. Lori Char had the Warriors’ only score in the second quarter.

“You see it in basketball, right? If they’re playing high on you in the lanes, drive ‘em,” Bart said. “We gotta do a little bit more of that, a little more motion. Yeah, we can work on that. That’s not new to us. We just gotta kind of revisit some things.”

Being in their home pool with the ILH on the line (if they’d won, it would’ve forced a one-game playoff in the pool of the regular-season champion Buffanblu on Monday) might’ve even worked against them.

Bart was asked about playing host again for states.

“Well, after tonight I’m a little bit worried,” he said with a rueful chuckle. “You know, it’s nice, it’s a beautiful facility. It’s a million-dollar view. I know the school’s excited about hosting, they want to put on a really good show and be really good hosts. We’re looking forward to it.”

Mid-Pacific beat ‘Iolani 9-5 for ILH third place preceding the Punahou-Kamehameha game.

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On the OIA side of things, it’s Kahuku vs. Kaiser for their league crown at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Central Oahu Regional Park. Kaiser beat Kalaheo 9-6 and Kahuku topped Roosevelt 8-4 on Friday.

Kahuku has won 14 of 15 OIA titles, including eight straight, but lost to Kaiser in the OIA regular season. Could make for a very interesting matchup.

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