Punahou water polo seniors on quite a ride

Saki Migliorato, Emalia Eichelberger and Natassia Dunn are the senior leaders for the Punahou water polo team. The three have not lost a match while playing six seasons (intermediate and high school) at the school. They will try to help coach Ken Smith and the rest of the squad earn a ninth straight and 11th overall state title in May. Bruce Asato / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Saki Migliorato, Emalia Eichelberger and Natassia Dunn are the senior leaders for the Punahou water polo team. The three have not lost a match while playing six seasons (intermediate and high school) at the school. They will try to help coach Ken Smith and the rest of the squad earn a ninth straight and 11th overall state title in May. Bruce Asato / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Three Punahou water polo seniors are close to going undefeated for the sixth straight season, including two intermediate years.

It’s been an incredible run so far, and it’s not over. the Buffanblu still have to navigate the rest of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu season and the state tournament in early May.

Goalkeeper Emalia Eichelberger, center attacker Saki Migliorato and outside attacker and defender Natassia Dunn are the leadership core of Punahou this season.

Eichelberger signed to play for Stanford and has her sights set on becoming an Olympian, Migliorato will choose between Harvard, Brown and several schools in the United Kingdom, and Dunn has been accepted to UCLA and Claremont and will play somewhere at the next level, according to head coach Ken Smith.

“Leadership and setting the tone comes from upperclassmen and these three are as good as any three we’ve ever had in continuing and perpetuating the culture we have. It makes everyone want to train hard,” Smith said.

During a phone interview Monday, Dave Eichelberger — the former PGA Tour golfer and the father of Emalia — said that the team’s undefeated records through the years did not come easy and was a result of hard work by the whole team.

Migliorato tries not to think about the streak.

“If I think about it, it will get me nervous and more stressed out before games,” she said. “We try to play each game like we’re losing and have to catch back up. That way, we stay motivated and it challenges us to improve.”

In varsity competition alone, Smith said someone close to the team recently told him that the Buffanblu are nearing or have recently passed 100 wins in a row, dating back to 2008, when they won the first of eight straight state titles. They’re going for nine in a row and 11 overall (since the inaugural state tournament in 2004).

“All three seniors are great academically, too,” Smith added.

The speedy Dunn, who swims for Punahou and placed third in the states in the 50-yard freestyle last year, talked about the other two: “Emalia is always a rock in the goal. She’ll get what we miss and she’s always talking to us. Saki is so great and she’s super aggressive in a team way. When we get her the ball, she puts it away.”

Migliorato, who accidentally knocked out half of Eichelberger’s tooth with a hard shot off the crossbar during practice last week, related how the three have come such a long way since seventh grade.

“I remember when we were in middle school, we were so bad,” she said. “We kind have come into our own as individuals and are also a lot more cohesive. We have different specialties, and combined together, we have a really good offense and defense.”

A feature story about Emalia Eichelberger ran in the Tuesday edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Subscribers can read it here: http://bit.ly/1MRx1Vn


  1. Rams33 March 29, 2016 7:30 pm

    Thanks for the write up. I’d love to see more water polo coverage here. This year in particular it seems like Punahou will dominate the field but it’ll be interesting to see if anyone from outside the ILH can even reach the state finals.

    It’s been disappointing to see a large number of forfeits in the OIA this year; must be tough to garner enough interest in the sport when few OIA schools have pools. Kahuku was finally beaten by an OIA opponent for the first time in years so there’s some parity at the top of the OIA.

  2. Cougar Nation March 30, 2016 10:59 am

    When does Punahou not dominate in Girls Water Polo?

  3. Rams33 March 30, 2016 12:22 pm

    True, but I think this year’s dominance is looking like another level of dominance. In ILH matches they’ve defeated KS-K and IOL 11-1 and 13-1 respectively. Last year Kamehameha was able to at least keep the games competitive but not this year. They beat the defending OIA champs Kahuku 18-2 and 10-1 in the preseason. I’d love to see someone knock them off but with this level of defense it’s not even a possibility this year.

  4. Rams33 March 30, 2016 12:39 pm

    I’ll have to take solace in the fact that at least the PUN division 2 team won’t be undefeated this year and their intermediate team almost lost their first game in a few years!

    But even if I’m not a fan of Puhahou sports, I respect the heck out of their water polo program. From the first water polo match I watched where my daughter’s team was getting whooped by Punahou I knew just watching coach Smith that he was one of the greats. Before I really knew much about water polo that just seemed obvious to this outsider.

    The Punahou water polo program definitely forces the rest of the ILH to raise their game. I’d love to see more competition from outside the ILH, but the sport is still relatively new for many schools.

  5. Cougar Nation March 31, 2016 10:45 am

    Many people think their Varsity 2 team would win states many years.

  6. Rams33 March 31, 2016 6:29 pm

    I think that’s probably underestimating KSK/IOL D1 teams but they’d probably beat anyone in the OIA/MIL/BIIF most years.

  7. Imua April 25, 2016 8:07 am

    Nice to know the Rams33 is a fan of the sport. Not too many around.

    Yes I am a parent of a KS water polo player. The Punahou Program is exceptional and has been for awhile. Coach Smith seems to be a great guy and very competitive at the same time. He will often see him scouting other game to get a feel of the competing teams. Also, they practice more and harder than any other team in the state. Its not magic.

    The Punahou Vars II program has been down for a couple of years now. Down meaning they are not undefeated. Le Jardin beat them twice this year and Scoringlive had Iolani II beating them soundly early in the season butI don’t believe that score was correct.

  8. Imua April 25, 2016 8:27 am

    I believe the Punahou Vars II girls this year would be somewhere above Iolani Vars I and below Le Jardin (Vars II).

    Interestingly, it seems time for Le Jardin to move up to Vars I. They beat Iolani Vars I in the ILH consolation game although I am not sure how many starters were playing for Iolani. If Le Jardin continues in Vars II they will never make the State tournament. They will always play Punahou in the ILH semis (1 vs 4). If they move up to Vars I, they can possibly be a 3 seed and play KS for the second birth.

  9. Rams33 May 5, 2016 9:58 am

    Imua, actually I noticed that last year Punahou I didn’t have to play in the ILH tournament. Le Jardin had the opportunity to play Iolani 1st and the Kam for the chance at states. But they lost to IOL. This years LJA team was stronger while both Iolani and Kamehameha were down a bit, particularly KSK losing so many SRs from last year. So I thought LJA had a fighting chance to make states this year until learning that Pun would play in the ILH tournament. Not sure if they actually could have beat KSK, but nobody is touching Punahou this year so they were dead in the water. This sort of thing seems to vary by sport and by year so I’m guessing there are ongoing evaluations made by the ILH as to how to award the state births each year.

    As for going D1, I think it makes sense in terms of having the best chance at states, but LJA is such a small school it’s remarkable they’re able to field a competitive team in the first place. And with their numbers they’re justifiably proud at winning the D2 ILH title several times. I just recently began following the sport but looking back I see there have been times when Pac5 fielded both D1 and D2 teams but now the Pac5 team is in jeopardy as MidPac will be splitting off on their own next year leaving a big question mark as to where Pac5 will be able to practice. With UH Lab school making up a good chunk of the Pac5 teams I wonder if something could be worked out to hold practices in the UH pool similar to how UH Lab teams have sometimes used Klum gym.

  10. Imua May 9, 2016 8:33 am

    Ram33, congratulations on a great season. Beating Punahou twice in one year will always be a terrific achievement.
    Yeah I forgot how they formatted the ILH tournament last year. The previous year and this year was 1v4 and 2v3. I believe it is normally like that but I cannot say for sure. It may be difficult to decide on what division you want to be if don’t know how the playoff will be.
    Its too bad that there is not any Vars II OIA teams out there. A Vars II state tournament would be ideal for Le Jardin.
    I hope you got a chance to attend the state tournament last week. There were some really great games. The rubber match between Roosevelt and Kahuku was fantastic. I can see this becoming a yearly rivalry game. Very passionate fans on both sides.
    If you haven’t seen Lalelei Mataafa from Lahainaluna yet, you really missed out. We played her last year and she would throw skip shots from mid pool. There is a crazy Youtube video on her from last year.
    Yeah Punahou smoked us again. Not really a competitive game in my opinion. Hopefully our girls can do some weight training and conditioning before next season (no Emalia next season).

  11. Rams33 May 9, 2016 12:55 pm

    Imua, actually I’m a Pac5 inter parent so no affiliation with LJA, but if Pac5 fails to field a team I’m told there may be a chance of playing with LJA next season.

    Congrats to your girls on a great 2nd place finish. That was a good Kahuku team they beat in the semis and there’s no shame in losing the title game to Punahou. Unfortunately Punahou always reloads and should be strong again next year even without Emalia. I was looking at the Hawaii ODP rosters and over half the U16 team was from Punahou this year. They’re talented and well coached but hopefully someone can knock them off one of these years.

    Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to watch the state tournament this year. I did check out the OIA tournament and ILH tournament to get a look at the top teams. But I went ahead and looked up video on Mataafa. Wow she does have a cannon, and looks like a fantastic player from what I can find online. I saw one highlight of her scoring literally 5 seconds into the game. I never saw someone get a shot off 5 seconds in let alone score on a mid-pool shot immediately after the sprint. I’m sure she could play WP at the next level, but I wonder if she picks wrestling instead for college. For me, life as a college water polo player sounds more appealing than that of a wrestler so I’ll make a wild, uneducated (and biased) guess and say she plays water polo in college.

    As for the Kahuku and Roosevelt rivalry, it makes sense for them to be on the top as they are the two OIA schools I know of who definitely have ties to club teams. With very few opportunities to play water polo prior to intermediate school, the learning curve is steep for water polo so I’m sure the extra work in the summer makes a huge difference. I’ll find out first hand this year as my daughter gets her first summer club experience this year.

    I’d love to see the sport expand at other OIA schools and around the islands. Seems to me like if they can make it through the first couple weeks of pain, so many of the girls my daughter knows come to absolutely love the sport. My daughter finishes other sports seasons and is happy for the break until the next season, but as soon as water polo season was finished she said she missed it and begged me to get her an empty 5 gallon jug to work on strengthening her egg-beater.

  12. Imua May 11, 2016 10:17 am

    It is a great idea to get into summer polo in the off season. It gives the player about 2 to 3 months of practice and game experience. There is a Hawaiian Isles tournament (Punahou club I believe) that puts on a tournament at the end of summer. I believe its the best water polo tournament put on all year. There are teams from US, Canada, Australia etc that participate. Great experience for the players to see how the game is played elsewhere. Most players play in several different age groups so you can have multiple games in a single day. You usually end up playing more games in that tournament than you do for an entire season.

    If your daughter does summer polo, ODP and of course swim team (speed and stamina a must for field players) she should be a top tier player in the coming years. And hopefully, Pac5 will field a team next year.

  13. Rams33 May 23, 2016 8:10 am

    Just saw a Maui News report from last week that Mataafa will play water polo at ASU. That’s a big time program and hopefully she does well over there.

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