Kahuku still reigns supreme
The Kahuku Red Raiders reacted as time ran out in the fourth quarter of the OIA girls water polo championship against the Kaiser Cougars on Saturday at Central Oahu Regional Park. / Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.
The only thing that’s changed for Kahuku in OIA girls water polo is the Red Raiders’ head coach.
When it comes to winning league water polo titles, the North Shore is as dominant as ever.
Kahuku answered its most meaningful challenge in years in convincing fashion, besting Kaiser 9-6 on Saturday at Central Oahu Regional Park. It was the Raiders’ ninth straight OIA title, and 15th in 16 years since official competition began.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Kaiser authored a 6-5 stunning upset over Kahuku, giving the Cougars an unbeaten regular season (12-0) and Kahuku (11-1) an exceptionally rare blemish. Both teams took care of business in the OIA playoffs, setting up an intriguing rematch in the title game.
But, after Kaiser hung around for a while (even making it 2-2 in the second, and 4-3 to begin the third), Kahuku flexed its muscle. The Raiders scored five straight to close the third, including two apiece by Sophie Wilson and Ava Countryman, as they won comfortably despite giving up three long-range Kaiser scores late in the game.
It made Gina Ahue, a former Kahuku player (2005-08), a winner in her first year as head coach. She assisted Larisa Luehrs last year. Luehrs coached a year on both sides of a single season by Aaron Waldrip (2016), who took over from longtime coach Makana Leiataua.
All that transition of leadership has not diminished Kahuku’s resolve when it matters.
“We were just a little bit off the first time we saw them,” Ahue said of Kaiser. “And they’re a great team and we underestimated their abilities. This time we knew we had to come out strong, and come out firing, and that’s what we did.”
Here was the complete scoring for both teams:
Kahuku Sophie Wilson 4 Ava Countryman 2 Hannah Smith Siitia Cravens Kayla Grigsby
Kaiser Megan Kaneshiro 3 Noelle Nakakura 2 Kanoko Niimura
Now it’s on to states, where the Red Raiders have fallen short to powerhouse ILH squads annually (usually to the private-school runner-up in the semifinals).
“We’re hoping to go in there and have fun,” Ahue said. “Play water polo, whatever comes of it, we’re hoping we learn and we grow, and as a state, continue to allow that progression of water polo within the state. So, I’m not setting any, state anything about when we see ILH, but we’re going to go out there, we’re going to play our best and we’re going to try, as hard as we can, to win.”