The Stanford Carr Development/HHSAA Girls Water Polo State Championships is objectively a great event.
The action is entertaining, it’s easy to tell what’s happening (even for non-water polo aficionados) and the matches move pretty quickly.
If there’s one drawback to it, it’s that the outcomes tend to be fairly predictable. Historically, it goes something like this: Punahou wins; the runner-up ILH team gives the Buffanblu a sometimes-competitive battle in the championship game; there’s a neighbor island team that proves itself worthy after a win or two; and Kahuku, the OIA’s stalwart, tries to punch above its weight in the semifinals.
But hang around long enough or look hard enough and you’ll find something that can surprise you. This year, that’s the Kaiser Cougars.
It wasn’t surprising that the second-seeded Cougars — trying on the OIA crown for the first time — beat Hawaii Prep Academy in Thursday’s quarterfinals by a score of 9-3. They’re experienced and deep for an OIA squad, and great swimmers by anyone’s measure.
That said, a new team into the semifinals, especially out of the OIA, where Kahuku dominated for so long (nine years), is refreshing from a neutral viewer’s standpoint, and probably healthy for the sport. Kaiser joined Punahou, Kamehameha-Hawaii and host Kamehameha in advancing to Friday’s semifinals. The other three are repeat qualifiers from 2018.
The Cougars are a terrific story. They have tight-knit group of 10 seniors who are trying to give their even-keeled coach, Asa Tanaka, a worthy sendoff nearing the end of his coaching career (which might extend to next season). They’ve already done that by dethroning the Red Raiders in the OIA and going farther in states than any OIA team not named Kahuku, Mililani, Kapolei or Roosevelt. That list could narrow to just Kahuku with a strong effort Friday.
The marquee matchup will be at 5:45 p.m., Kaiser vs. Kamehameha. Speed vs. power (and speed).
“They’re fast, they’re smart, and they’re strong. They’re strong,” said Tanaka, repeating the last part for emphasis. “They got some girls on there, they got some guns. Hopefully we can nullify them with our speed. If not, keep learning.”
Erin Patterson (three goals) and Megan Kaneshiro (two) did much of the legwork for Kaiser against HPA. The two friends found each other multiple times with some nifty passing on counterattacks.
Me, (Kaneshiro) and Kano (Niimura) have been doing this together, training together for a long time,” Patterson said. “And we’ve been specifically practicing that one where two of us are right in front of the goalie.”
The only time an OIA team has beaten an ILH counterpart in states was in 2013, when Kahuku beat ‘Iolani in the semifinals and hung within 5-3 of Punahou in the final.
Friday’s second semifinal, at 7, features a rematch from last year, when a game Kamehameha-Hawaii squad — inspired by the difficulties several players faced back home due to the historic eruption — hung within 8-2 of the mighty Buffanblu.
Eun Kim Chung, Taylor Kuroiwa, Mao Mina Hanada and Sarah Lorenzo had Kaiser’s other scores. Jenna Perry led Ka Makani with two goals on three shots, while Morgan Davis had the other score.
No. 1 Punahou 15, Roosevelt 5
The 11-time defending champion Buffanblu took care of business in their opening match of the tournament, downing the Rough Riders while diving deep into their bench to move to 40-0 all-time in the state tournament.
Christina Hicks led the way with four goals, Mallory Meister and Kaya Lee recorded hat tricks, Josie Mobley and Victoria Gacutan put in two and Mahina Damon one.
Emiko Tajima scored twice and Lauren Croll, Clara Lee and Adoria Lee also found the net.
“I felt really good about what everybody did. It’s the first game, so you try to get a lot of people in,” Punahou coach Ken Smith said. “They just tried to bring some energy to the game, and I think they did. … (Roosevelt) definitely has some good players. I think our speed got to them, a little bit.”
Kamehameha 12, No. 3 Baldwin 8
The host Warriors surged in the middle quarters, outscoring the Bears 7-2 in the second and third periods, to keep themselves alive for a fifth straight finals appearance. Baldwin, which was denied a second straight semis appearance, scored three straight in the fourth to narrow the gap.
Kyra Kahahawai led the Warriors with four goals, while Lori Char, Shaye Story, Kala‘i Terada and Kamea Kim scored two apiece.
Jacsen Donohue led the Bears with five goals. Kristi Kimora, Keanna Campbell and Jessica Baker completed the scoring.
“They’re a strong team,” Baldwin coach Shawn Donohue said. “We made a three-goal run, made it 11-8, but we couldn’t close the gap any further. They were too tough, and they have a big center who can score goals.”
The teams played a tight match at ‘Iolani’s preseason tournament. Donohue was asked about how both teams progressed since.
“They’re bigger and stronger because they play better competition during the season,” he said. “We go back to Maui, go undefeated, (and) don’t see anything close to this for two months.”
The coach was hoping for a better seed, pointing out his team beat Kaiser (the No. 2 seed) 5-2 in that ‘Iolani tournament.
“They got the seed. So that’s how things go for us on Maui,” he said with a sardonic laugh. “We just have to come here and play good water polo if we want to get to the semifinals and to that championship game. We’re never going to get the seed we think we might deserve, we just need to come in here, play our best, and beat whoever we’re seeded against. That’s all it comes down to.”
No. 4 Kamehameha-Hawaii 9, Kahuku 8
Ocean Aikau had the game-winner with about 20 seconds left after the Red Raiders surged from down three goals in the fourth quarter to knot the match at 8, and the Big Island Warriors advanced to the semifinals for the second straight year and third time overall.
Aikau put in four for the BIIF champs, Naniloa Spaar had two, and Emma Kanoa, Noe‘ula Lindsey and Aubrey Carter scored.
“Real good game for ours,” KSH coach Dan Lyons said of his players. “It’s nice to see the girls deal with some adversity and be able to recover from that, because (it’s) the life skill you want to see kids gain. That’s good for us. … Our girls didn’t lose focus at all. They didn’t panic. … (Kahuku) went down and scored and tied it up, and we came right down and scored. It’s a growing thing. Be interesting to see how much we grow from not falling apart.”
Kahuku, the OIA runner-up, missed the semis in consecutive years after getting that far the first 14 years of the state tournament. Ava Padaca and Siitia Cravens led the Red Raiders with two goals, while Jade Paranhos-Lopes, Megan Shanley, Kaylee Vendiola and Kayla Smith supplied one each.
STATE WATER POLO
|1||April 29||King Kekaulike vs. Roosevelt||Roos, 9-2||Kihei|
|2||April 29||Kahuku vs. Leilehua||Kah, 6-2||Kamehameha|
|3||April 29||Hawaii Prep vs. Moanalua||HPA, 5-4||Kamehameha-Hawaii|
|4||April 29||Kamehameha vs. Kapolei||KSK, 14-2||Kamehameha|
|5||May 2||(4) KS-Hawaii vs. Kahuku||KSH, 9-8||Kamehameha|
|6||May 2||(3) Baldwin vs. Kamehameha||KSK, 12-8||Kamehameha|
|7||May 2||(2) Kaiser vs. Hawaii Prep||Kais, 9-3||Kamehameha|
|8||May 2||(1) Punahou vs. Roosevelt||Pun, 15-5||Kamehameha|
|9*||May 3||Baldwin vs. Hawaii Prep||HPA, 7-3||Kamehameha|
|10*||May 3||Kahuku vs. Roosevelt||Roos, 7-4||Kamehameha|
|11||May 3||Kamehameha vs. Kaiser||KSK, 9-4||Kamehameha|
|12||May 3||KS-Hawaii vs. Punahou||Pun, 18-4||Kamehameha|
|13*||May 4||Hawaii Prep vs. Roosevelt||Roos, 6-4||Kamehameha|
|14*||May 4||Kaiser vs. KS-Hawaii||Kais, 10-5||Kamehameha|
|15||May 4||Kamehameha vs. Punahou||Pun, 11-3||Kamehameha|
|* — consolation|