HIGH SCHOOL WATER POLO
FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aisha Price and Punahou rose to the occasion, beating Kamehameha 9-2 for the state title.
Punahou perfect in pool
It didn't matter that Punahou seemingly played most of the match with one or even two fewer players in the pool.
The Buffanblu locked down Interscholastic League of Honolulu rival Kamehameha to take their third Local Motion/HHSAA Girls Water Polo State Championship title in five years, topping the Warriors 9-2 at Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center yesterday.
An imposing defensive front took the ball out of the hands of the Warriors' most polished players and put pressure on the rest of the team to make plays. The physical tactics sometimes cost the Buffanblu a player ejection or two for defensive sequences (similar to a hockey power play) but that was a sacrifice coach Ken Smith was willing to make. His players were quick to rotate and apply pressure at all angles.
"Nope, didn't bother us," he said. "You just deal with it and it makes everyone else work really hard because now your back is really against the wall, and they responded really well."
Junior Aisha Price -- convinced by Smith to take up the sport after he saw her playing dodge ball in intermediate school -- continued her offensive onslaught with five goals, raising her tournament total to 14. Her younger sister, Shayna, and Brailey Hirose-Hulbert added two scores each.
The elder Price put her team up 3-0 with a nifty no-look, reverse wraparound shot that caught Kamehameha completely off guard in the first quarter. Punahou's soccer throw-in specialist displayed the full repertoire of shots despite drawing heavy contact in front of the goal.
"I think it's just practice, you need to be versatile," said Price, who is familiar with many of her opponents through summer club play. "These Kamehameha girls are just awesome people. And so it was good beating our friends, I guess. I thought it was a really good game, a hard game."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Punahou's Jane Galluzzi shot over Kamehameha's Lihau Godden in the state championship match yesterday.
Kamehameha (8-4), the 2006 state champion, suffered all of its losses this season against unbeaten Punahou (11-0), which won the first two HHSAA water polo titles in 2004 and 2005.
Goalkeeper Terra DeBold played a superb match, shutting out the Warriors in the second half and allowing the only Kamehameha goals on a 5-meter penalty shot and a two-player-down situation.
She, like her teammates, was unfazed when they were outnumbered. DeBold was even ejected for one play in the first half, but two players aptly swam in front of the goal to fill the void and the Warriors couldn't capitalize in her brief absence.
"Everybody on our team loves each other, and our defense is about caring for each other and making sacrifices," the senior keeper said. "If you see somebody getting beat, you're right there at the ball."
To further underscore Punahou's dominant play throughout the season, the Warriors were actually somewhat satisfied with the final margin.
Senior Nanea Fujiyama positively contrasted yesterday's game to 17-0 and 17-7 losses in ILH play.
"They capitalize on every little mistake you make, the (smallest) thing ever," Fujiyama said. "They steal balls, Aisha, Shayna, Kulani (Jenkins), Jane (Galluzzi), they're all very good at anticipating and (are) very good players."
Fujiyama scored on the penalty shot just before halftime to cut the deficit to 6-2. But Aisha Price answered 2 minutes into the third quarter with a turnaround shot and Hirose-Hulbert and Shayna Price chipped in scores to put the game out of reach before a scoreless fourth quarter.
"They clamped down on our best shooters. We rely on Nanea, Ashlee (Akeo), and Kehau (Ai) quite a bit," Kamehameha coach Kelli Billish Fitter said. "Other girls had to step up and take the shots, and they did, but they didn't convert. And we couldn't convert on some of our man-up situations, that could have made the score closer."