Punahou, Kamehameha gain HHSAA water polo final for fifth straight year

Punahou's Mahina Damon faced off with Kamehameha-Hawaii's Naniola Spaar in the state semifinals Friday. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser

Punahou-Kamehameha for all the marbles, one more time?

Believe it. Embrace it. Cherish it. (Or at least the first of the three.) The Buffanblu and the Warriors are meeting up in the final of the Stanford Carr Development/HHSAA water polo championships for the fifth straight year.

They are like Golden State and Cleveland meeting up in the NBA Finals year after year, except it’s been even more lopsided than it was for Golden State in favor of Punahou. The Buffanblu are going for a 12th straight championship and 14th overall in the 16 years of state competition.


Punahou got back to the final (6 p.m. Saturday at Kamehameha) with a 18-4 drubbing of Kamehameha-Hawaii on Friday night. Kamehameha topped Kaiser 9-4 preceding that.

First-year Kamehameha coach Anthony Cabrera, the former JV coach, has taken his team back to the place it was used to getting under Randy Bart (who went to ‘Iolani for this season).

“I don’t know if I can put it into words, but it’s kind of the tradition, right?” Cabrera said. “The hard part is getting there, but then the other hard part is getting over that last hurdle. So that’s what we’re hoping for tomorrow, to play the best game we can possibly play and let the pieces fall where they may. As long as we play well, I’m going to be happy.”

Here’s what Punahou’s last four title wins over Kamehameha looked like:
2018: Punahou 8, Kamehameha 5
2017: Punahou 3, Kamehameha 2
2016: Punahou 9, Kamehameha 1
2015: Punahou 4, Kamehameha 2

They also linked up in the final in 2012 (6-3), 2011 (8-7), 2009 (12-4), 2008 (9-2), and 2004 (7-3).

As you can see, there have been some close ones. But Punahou, insanely, has still never lost in the state tournament (41-0) when it’s qualified for it.

“It’s not going to be an easy game. Kamehameha always rises to the occasion,” Punahou’s 72-year-old legendary coach Ken Smith said. “It’s going to be a tough game. … I think they bring a lot of speed, more speed than they’ve had over the years. Some of the skill positions, they’re tough. Their 2-meter (player), their center, Lori (Char) and Kyra (Kahahawai), and Shaye (Story), she can try to do everything. She can go in the center, go on the perimeter, she can defend. Their skill positions are (strong).”

Punahou has a very strong player in junior Christina Hicks, who scored four goals in both of Punahou’s two state matches, but the Buffanblu are exceptionally deep. They had a whopping 10 different players score a goal Friday.

As for themselves, Smith said, “We just try to play tough defense and then counterattack, fast break. It’s a simple game. You don’t need to make it complicated.”

Besides the fifth straight title matchup between the teams, this is also their fifth official meeting this season. Punahou, which hasn’t dropped a match in years, took the previous four, including 12-6 in the ILH championship. But it’s been closer than that on occasion.

“I think (there’s) familiarity,” Cabrera said. “Just the confidence to know that we’ve given them a couple tough games this year. If we can do that over four quarters, I think that will serve us well.”

Char, who scored four goals against Kaiser, is eager for the opportunity to be the team that brings all the streaks to an end. Kamehameha’s lone state water polo title was in 2006, when it beat Kahuku 5-3.

“It means a lot,” Char, a 5-foot-10 senior, said of being back in the final. “I think each year, you look back at the year before, or even the first year. My freshman year, I just remember playing Punahou. We were like, ‘oh my gosh.’ Ever since then we’ve been working really hard to get this moment and get to tomorrow. So I’m really excited to see how it plays out. It’s going to be a good game.”

Char was thankful to be playing in her home pool one last time, knowing it’s going to be all over after Saturday no matter what.

“I’m really grateful for all the people, all the coaches, all the players, all who’ve helped us get to this point here,” the utility player said. “Because it means a lot to represent our school, and to be a part of this competition, and to compete, you know? So whatever happens tomorrow, I’m really grateful that I got to play with these girls, and I think the sentiment is true for all of us.”


Kaiser’s 9-4 defeat to Kamehameha wasn’t as lopsided as the final score indicated; the OIA champion Cougars were within 7-4 after three quarters.

But they didn’t quite have the physical attributes to match up with a bigger, stronger Kamehameha team. Kahuku in 2013 remains the only OIA team to beat an ILH counterpart in states.

“At least we made it a little exciting. If the water polo gods had given us a little more favor, things might have been different,” Kaiser coach Asa Tanaka said. “But I’m happy with how things ended up.”

The longtime Cougars water sports coach (four decades in swimming) recently decided to come back for at least one more year in water polo. He is losing 10 seniors, basically his entire team.

“For me it’s been bittersweet,” Tanaka said. “We did so well, yet I know that all the seniors (are) going to be leaving. So I’m just trying to enjoy it as much as I can. But I’m looking forward to next year, because when you rebuild a team, it gives you a sense of if you’re doing things correctly. If your technique and your knowledge work.”

The team was made aware during Friday’s pregame meeting that no Kaiser team had advanced into the top four in states. They’ll play in the third-place match at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Kamehameha-Hawaii.

“It’s crazy. I never would have thought we would get here,” said senior Kanoko Niimura, who scored twice against Kamehameha. “And I didn’t realize, myself, that we were this far up, until today. During the meeting today we found out that we’ve never placed higher than sixth place in states. So now that I know that, it’s crazy to think that we’re playing for third or fourth.”

Punahou coach Ken Smith called out instructions to his team. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser
Kaiser goalie Lindsey Fujimori saved a shot during a HHSAA semifinal against Kamehameha. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser
Kaiser’s Kanoko Niimura smiled after scoring one of her two goals against Kamehameha. / Photo by Steven Erler, Special to the Star-Advertiser
Match #DateMatchupTime/ScoresSite
1April 29King Kekaulike vs. RooseveltRoos, 9-2Kihei
2April 29Kahuku vs. LeilehuaKah, 6-2Kamehameha
3April 29Hawaii Prep vs. MoanaluaHPA, 5-4Kamehameha-Hawaii
4April 29Kamehameha vs. KapoleiKSK, 14-2Kamehameha
5May 2(4) KS-Hawaii vs. KahukuKSH, 9-8Kamehameha
6May 2(3) Baldwin vs. KamehamehaKSK, 12-8Kamehameha
7May 2(2) Kaiser vs. Hawaii PrepKais, 9-3Kamehameha
8May 2(1) Punahou vs. RooseveltPun, 15-5Kamehameha
9*May 3Baldwin vs. Hawaii PrepHPA, 7-3Kamehameha
10*May 3Kahuku vs. RooseveltRoos, 7-4Kamehameha
11May 3Kamehameha vs. KaiserKSK, 9-4Kamehameha
12May 3KS-Hawaii vs. PunahouPun, 18-4Kamehameha
13*May 4Hawaii Prep vs. RooseveltRoos, 6-4Kamehameha
14*May 4Kaiser vs. KS-HawaiiKais, 10-5Kamehameha
15May 4Kamehameha vs. PunahouPun, 11-3Kamehameha
* — consolation


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