Punahou water polo makes it 11 straight

Ken Smith got tossed into the Kamehameha pool by his Punahou players. / Photo by Brian McInnis, Star-Advertiser

Ken Smith got his pool toss up on the hill this time.

Punahou stormed hostile territory and defeated Kamehameha at the Kalani‘opu‘u Aquatic Center, 8-5, on Saturday night for the Buffanblu’s 11th straight title in the Stanford Carr Development/HHSAA Water Polo Championships. It was their 13th crown in 15 years, all under Smith, the legendary 71-year-old coach who got chucked into the pool by his players just as the resolute Warriors belted out their alma mater.

As has been the case in the last few years, Punahou did it with near-perfect balance on its roster. The Buffanblu (39-0 all-time in states) led 8-2 midway through the fourth before the Warriors scrambled for three late goals.

“I think we just came out really aggressive on both offense and defense,” Smith said. “I think it really showed. Every phase of the game, we just were constantly attacking. That was our whole key, was attack in every area. And we did. It was our best game of the year.”

Nai‘a Young-Kingsbury, Dillyn Lietzke and tournament most outstanding player Christina Hicks scored two goals each, while Dani Kauahi and Kaya Lee also connected. Goalkeeper Sarah Perez saved nine shots, including two of Kamehameha’s five penalty attempts.

“It starts with the coach. Ken, he is one of the best coaches in the nation,” Kamehameha coach Randy Bart said. “And then, those girls work hard. They train year-round. And they’re athletic. So when you have good water polo skills, combined with experience and athleticism, it makes them tough to beat.”

Kamehameha finished runner-up for the fourth straight year and ninth time overall. Its lone title came in 2006.

La‘akea Dedrick closed out her Warriors career with a hat trick.

“Punahou gave a hell of the game, we gave a hell of a game,” Dedrick said. “I think all of us are satisfied with what happened out there. I mean, sure, it’s going to leave a bad taste in your mouth that you lost.”

A big part of playing such a juggernaut like Punahou is not mentally defeating yourself before the game even begins. The Warriors knew that.

“Playing a team that has a 10-year state title (streak), is already intimidating, but as you learn to play them and play with them, they’re not like superstars,” Dedrick said. “We’re all people, everyone makes mistakes … it was more just, really humanizing them and not putting them on a pedestal, which is what a lot of people tend to do. They have a great title and a great history, so of course they would do that. But it’s hey, ‘they’re a person, we’re a person, anything can happen’ thing.”

Bart can build around his 5-foot-11 freshman, Shaye Story, who had one of the Warriors’ late goals. Monet Bisch had the other Warriors score.

In earlier results, Baldwin defeated Kamehameha-Hawaii 8-2 for third and Kahuku bested Kaiser 4-1 for fifth.

All-tournament team:

Nai‘a Young-Kingsbury, Punahou
Dillyn Lietzke, Punahou
Danielle Kauahi, Punahou
Shaye Story, Kamehameha
La‘akea Dedrick, Kamehameha
Rebecca Buenrostro Gallimore, Baldwin
Goalkeeper: Kiara Espeleta, Baldwin
Most Outstanding Player: Christina Hicks, Punahou

Here’s a few other shots from the day:

Ken Smith coached his Buffanblu poolside during a timeout.
Punahou players prepared to celebrate with the championship trophy.
Kamehameha players presented their rivals with lei after the game.
Kamehameha finished runner-up for the fourth straight year.

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