Cougars crash Red Raiders to claim OIA crown
WAIPIO — For just the third time in the 17-year history of sanctioned girls water polo, a new school is laying claim to its first Oahu Interscholastic Association championship.
Kaiser continued its unbeaten streak and ended Kahuku's nine-year OIA championship reign after crashing in on the Red Raiders, 8-3, Saturday afternoon in the title match of the OIA Playoffs at the K. Mark Takai Aquatic Center at Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park.
The Cougars outshot the Red Raiders 32 to 9 as they were led by their seniors in scoring. Kanoko Niimura nabbed a team-high four goals with Sarah Lorenzo adding a pair, and Noelle Nakakura and Erin Patterson each finding the back of the net.
Kaiser had a 4-0 lead before Kahuku got on the scoreboard mid-way through the third quarter on Jade Paranhos-Lopes' launch from near mid-pool. Niimura responded with three unanswered goals heading into the final period.
"Our team rarely does any strategic things," Niimura said. "[Kaiser coach Asa Tanaka] kind of just tells us, 'Do what you want to do,' and our starting eight sort of knows what we're going to do. We know each others' strengths and just play to that. We understand each other. It works in our way. We're very random. Sometimes it goes against us but for the most part, we're able to play off it."
For the senior-heavy squad, it's been a four-year journey that includes falling short of the title to the Red Raiders a year ago. The past two years, Kahuku had come back from lone regular season losses by defeating that same team when the OIA title was on the line. The Cougars beat the Red Raiders again in their earlier regular season meetingand Tanaka reminded his players of what had happened a year ago.
"We tried to do everything we could for this and they achieved their goal. It's very gratifying, no doubt," Tanaka said. "I told them, 'When we beat Kahuku in the regular season, how did it feel? And then when we lost to them in the playoffs, how did you feel then? Big difference in the way we felt. You don't want to feel like that again You want to feel good, you want to feel like you accomplished something,' so I think that had a lot to do with today."
Kahuku's two regular season losses were the most any Red Raiders team has had in all 17 years of dominating the sport. Previously, the only time they didn't win the OIA title was in 2009 when Roosevelt won, a team Kahuku had lost to this season but beat 7-5 in Friday's semifinal.
"As we were warming up we're like, 'How did we beat them last time?' We don't remember at all because we watched the Roosevelt-Kahuku game yesterday and like, wow, they really stepped it up," Niimura said. "We were kind of panicking but we just kept calm and did what we had to do. Did what we always did."
Siitia Cravens had come up clutch for the Red Raiders in their semifinal win, nailing the final two goals including the game-winner on a 5-meter penalty shot. Saturday, she found the back of the net on a penalty shot at the 4:58 mark in the fourth quarter and on a long heave in the final minute.
Kahuku goalkeeper Kimbrell Kunz came up with 15 saves, but the Red Raiders managed only one of their nine shot attempts from inside the 5-meter line. In contrast, the Cougars only took four shots from beyond five meters.
"We always press on the outside and we're always tight on our men no matter what," Nakakura said. "Unless the set is open like if our guard is behind then we'll take the drop but because of our speed I think we're able to do our drops pretty well."
Several of Kaiser's goals had come on counterattacks, and speed was something Kahuku coach Gina Ahue had alluded to being a big reason for the Cougars' success when they first met up in the regular season matchup.
Both teams will have the week off to prepare for the Stanford Carr/HHSAA Girls Water Polo State Championships at Kamehameha Schools Kapalama. Kaiser (14-0) will have a seeded berth along with Interscholastic League of Honolulu champ and 11-time defending state champion Punahou (11-0), Big Island Interscholastic Federation winner Kamehameha-Hawaii (14-0) and Maui Interscholastic League champ Baldwin (12-0). Joining them in the 12-team tournament will be Kahuku, Roosevelt, Kapolei, Moanalua, Leilehua, Kamehameha, Kekaulike and Hawaii Prep.