• Brian McInnis @ The Star-Advertiser

Youthful Kahuku water polo team back in its comfort zone


DARRYL OUMI / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

Kahuku’s Kimbrell Kunz stopped a shot, one of her eight saves against Leilehua in a 6-2 victory on Monday. Her stops and outlet passes fueled Kahuku’s offense.

Kahuku found itself in a most unfamiliar position to open the Stanford Carr Development, LLC/HHSAA water polo state championships.

The first round.

The Red Raiders had a nine-year run as Oahu Interscholastic Association champion come to an end at the hands of Kaiser in the league title game earlier this month. As a consequence, Kahuku entered states without a bye and with plenty to prove.

“It’s just another game,” coach Gina Ahue said. “We just gotta go out there and prove that we’re worth something.”

Her team did, getting back to the quarterfinal round with a 6-2 win over Leilehua on Monday afternoon at Kamehameha’s pool.

The longer road through the tournament bracket could benefit her young team, Ahue reasoned.

Kaylee Vendiola and Siitia Cravens each scored two goals, and Kayla Smith and Jade Paranhos-Lopes completed Kahuku’s scoring. The Red Raiders, who sport no seniors, next face fourth-seeded Kamehameha-Hawaii in a 2:45 p.m. matchup Thursday back on the Kapalama hillside.

DARRYL OUMI / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-ADVERTISER

Kahuku’s Kimbrell Kunz stopped a shot, one of her eight saves against Leilehua in a 6-2 victory on Monday. Her stops and outlet passes fueled Kahuku’s offense.

“We just have to make sure … that we’re ready, in all areas of the game,” Ahue said. “Swimming, confidence, passing, execution. And most of all is effort. It comes down to effort.”

The whole season has been a long road for Kahuku, which lost Brigham Young-Hawaii’s pool as an available site before this season. Instead, they’ve traveled 30 minutes up the North Shore to the Pupukea Boy Scouts camp to practice.

“It’s really hard, but it also brings us together a team. Hardships build us together,” said junior goalkeeper Kimbrell Kunz, who saved eight shots Monday. “We’re alone out in the mountains in freezing cold water pulling frogs out of the pool.

“It really helped us (in) becoming a team even though this is our first year together.”

Leilehua had his own challenges. Coach Nathan Higa often has to contend with continuity issues because of the military turnover on his campus. Monday, he had to deal with Kunz, whose stops and outlet passes helped Kahuku to a 4-1 halftime lead.

“She was outstanding. She was in the right place at the right time,” Higa said. “It almost looked like we were throwing it to her. She was playing great.”

Leilehua lost by one in the teams’ regular-season meeting, then by eight in the OIA tournament.

“We knew that they’re a young team, and we hoped that we’d give them a good match,” Higa said. “I think we did pretty well.”

Youthful Kahuku water polo team back in its comfort zone

Kahuku's Kimbrell Kunz (1) stops the shot of Leilehua's Antonia Tomas (4)

Leilehua's Kaya Takashige (2) takes a shot as she is closely defended by Kahuku's Siitia Cravens (3)

#SiitiaCravens #GinaAhue #KayleeVendiola #KaylaSmith #JadeParanhosLopes #KimbrellKunz

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