Kaiser storms through Kahuku to remain unbeaten
WAIPIO — It's been a year-long process in the making, but the Cougars avenged last season's league championship loss to the Red Raiders with near-domination Saturday afternoon as Kaiser stormed through Kahuku, 11-3, in an Oahu Interscholastic Association battle at the K. Mark Takai Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center at Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park.
Both teams entered the match undefeated, and much like last year's regular season matchup, it was the Cougars coming out on top.
Saturday, they were powered by their seniors — Sarah Lorenzo (4), Chung Eun Kim (3), Noelle Nakakura (1), Kanoko Niimura (1) and Megan Kaneshiro (1) all found the back of the net. Sophomore Shayna Gakiya scored the remaining goal to help Kaiser improve to 11-0.
Kahuku had an early 1-0 lead on Kayla Smith's deep shot at the 3:19 mark of the first quarter and held it until a full quarter later when Kaiser began an onslaught of nine-unanswered goals through the final period.
"I think we played good offense today. We had a lot of drives. We had a lot of close shots which went in," Kaiser coach Asa Tanaka said. "We always play tough defensively. Sometimes we just get a little lazy offensively because we have to depend on our speed, and sometimes when the other team is strong, they can nullify us."
All of the Cougars' goals came from inside the 5-meter line while all but four of the Red Raiders 23 shots were from beyond five meters.
Kahuku answered back when Jade Paranhos-Lopes found the back of net with 3:49 left in the match, and Aiyanna Bennion later scored from 10 meters out — both in man-up situations.
Smith, Paranhos-Lopes and Bennion are all juniors, a far contrast from a senior-heavy squad that led Kahuku to its ninth-consecutive OIA title last year. The past two seasons also saw the Red Raiders come back from lone regular season losses to defeat that same team when the OIA Championship was on the line.
"All we can do is grow as a team and get better. We lost a lot of our strength and we're really in a building phase, but that's no excuse," Kahuku coach Gina Ahue said. "We still need to come out hard and play the best we can play. If that doesn't work out, still, at least we know we played our best.
"If it's [Kaiser's] year, it's their year," Ahue continued. "They worked really hard for it. They're really fast. They won the championship in swimming."
In the same vein of Kahuku's dominance in water polo, Kaiser has won the last 10 OIA girls swimming titles with Tanaka as coach for the last seven. They also finished as state runner-ups.
"We're really fast and I think we just used our speed to sort of tire them out in the later part of the game," Lorenzo said.
In addition to spending the winter season on the swim team, they also took a trip to Japan last summer to compete against several other high school water polo teams, and Kaiser players later competed in the 50th Annual Hawaiian Invitational Water Polo Tournament.
"We worked harder because we knew we had a chance so we really wanted it. We're all really good friends so that really helps," Lorenzo said of putting in the extra work in the off-season.
In a bit of role reversal with Kahuku, this year's Kaiser team has 12 seniors versus just three from a year ago.
"That's their strength. Their cohesiveness," Tanaka said. "Some of them, they've been playing together four years and this is their fourth year. They can read each other without speaking sometimes."
Both teams close out the regular season Wednesday with OIA Playoffs set for April 18–20.