HIGH SCHOOL REPORT
Hurricane warning at Kapolei
Kapolei's Salas-Selem, Hagi patch up differences to click
Kahuku has dominated the Oahu Interscholastic Association girls water polo scene since the sport was introduced into the league in 2003, but a dynamic duo at Kapolei has the Hurricanes thinking this is the year the mighty Red Raiders will fall.
Seniors Nicole Hagi and Ashlie Salas-Selem didn't see eye-to-eye when they first began playing water polo as freshmen on the varsity team. In the three years since then, however, they have not only become best friends out of the pool, but one of the most dominating duos in it as well.
Hagi and Salas-Selem are in the top five of the OIA in goals scored, and have the Hurricanes (9-1) off to their best start in school history. Kapolei and Kahuku, which has never lost an OIA game in school history, square off April 28th at BYU-Hawaii.
Without a pool to practice in on the Kapolei campus, the Hurricanes have found a home at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park, where they practice in the Hurricane Bay wave pool after the park closes. And yes, sometimes they even practice with the waves on.
"It's definitely a lot tougher to swim, but we make the best out of it and have fun with it," Salas-Selem said.
Water polo is still a relatively new sport at the high school level, but more and more schools are beginning to offer it as a sport as interest continues to grow.
KAPOLEI seniors Nicole Hagi and Ashlie Salas-Selem weren't exactly the best of friends when water polo season started during their freshman year.
"We actually used to have this hate each other thing," Hagi said.
Water polo was just being introduced as a new sport at Kapolei, and swim coach Dexter Lee was in charge of the water polo team as well. Hagi, like most of the kids trying out, swam for Lee since she was in elementary school, but Salas-Selem was the new kid on the block.
"Most of the kids had been on my team for a while, but Ashlie swam for a different coach," Lee said. "I think they were just scared of each other."
After suffering through a trying freshman season in which the Hurricanes failed to qualify for the Oahu Interscholastic Association playoffs, the relationship between the two standout players became much tighter.
Now, as seniors, they call each other best friends, and are the two main reasons why Kapolei (9-1) is in second place in the league and hoping to become the first team in the five-year existence of girls water polo in the OIA to defeat perennial champion Kahuku.
The two schools will battle for first place in the league on April 28 at Brigham Young-Hawaii in Laie.
"I think we can give them rubs this year," Hagi said. "Physically and mentally we're better, but we're also just so much more of a team this year."
A lot of it has to do with the maturation of both Hagi and Salas-Selem, who together combine to form the most potent goal-scoring duo in league history. Last season, Salas-Selem led the OIA with 43 goals and Hagi finished third with 36. This season, Hagi leads the league with a stunning 40 goals, averaging four per game, and Salas-Selem is tied for fourth with 23 goals.
"We know how each other plays and we're able to figure out where each other is and how we want the ball," Salas-Selem said. "It takes a long time to build, but the fourth year really shows a difference."
Even though Kapolei didn't have an official team yet, Hagi jumped in the pool and practiced with the older players playing club water polo when she was in seventh grade, allowing her to be one of the only players to enter high school with some form of playing experience. Salas-Selem, however, was only a swimmer, and trying out a new sport for the first time.
"It was different from swimming with your head down and than swimming with your head up and playing as a team rather than being on your own," she said.
Another problem for the water polo team was trying to find pool space since Kapolei doesn't have its own pool. The team practiced at the Kapolei Recreation Center, where they didn't have any goals to shoot at and had to wait until 7 p.m. after public swim hours ended in order to practice. They usually wouldn't get out of the pool until 9 p.m.
"It's just something we've had to deal with," Salas-Selem said. "We were pretty junk and didn't know what we were doing anyway, but it's definitely nice to be able to practice (at the water park)."
The team worked out a deal to practice in the Hurricane Bay wave pool at Hawaiian Waters Adventure Park and has spent the last three years practicing in the late afternoon on weekdays after the park closes.
Now the Hurricanes can practice plays, shoot on goals, and get the proper practice time needed in order to compete.
The new setup has helped out tremendously; the Hurricanes have not only qualified for the OIA playoffs the last two seasons, but advanced to the state tournament as well, placing seventh and sixth. This year's team looks to continue its upward trend, thanks in large part to the dynamic seniors.
"These two are the best that have ever played for me," Lee said. "A lot of teams have that star player, but as for a tandem, I think they are right up there with the best in the state."
"Everyone says we really have this telepathy connection," Hagi added. "That's what makes it work."
NO MORE TENSION
It's a big difference from their first days in the pool together when Hagi admits there was some "awkward tension" between the two. The benefit of putting their differences behind them is evident both in the pool and out of it, as the success the two have enjoyed at the high school level will continue in college. Both of them are headed to Siena College in New York on partial water polo scholarships. It's the first time that a Kapolei student has gone to college on at least a partial water polo scholarship.
"I thought I'd swim to pay my way through college, but after my sophomore year when we placed in states, I realized that maybe this would be the way to college," Hagi said.
It's a sport that doesn't get much attention and has struggled to find its way into public schools across the island, but at Kapolei, it has created a special friendship between two talented seniors, and is the reason they will get to live out their dreams of playing sports on the collegiate level.