Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, May 6, 1999

W A T E R _ P O L O

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Wahine water polo coach Shari Baird-Smart gets
into the action during practice this week.

Wahine water polo
in championships

But with the team's top player
out, the going will be tough

By Pat Bigold


The Wahine water polo team is riding a six-game win streak -- its longest of the season -- as it opens play in the Women's Collegiate National Championships in Davis, Calif., tomorrow.

But Katie Hill, the junior whose team-leading 74 goals propelled the Wahine to a 23-13 record and a No. 5 national ranking this year, will not be with the team.

"Katie has mono(nucleosis) and she's really sick right now," said Wahine head coach Shari Baird-Smart.

"I'm hoping we're still on our way up, but Katie's a big loss for us. She scored in every contest, and is our leading defender. She's All-American caliber."

Hill plays the all-important 2-meter position (similar to quarterback). Because she is a lefty, she was able to drive on goal from the right side.

But the Wahine still have their second-leading scorer, Roosevelt High alumna Michele Wong (50 goals), a senior. Baird-Smart said Wong could earn All-America honors if she has a good tournament.

Also ready to play is junior Karin Umemura, who led the team with 37 assists.

Baird-Smart said the scheduling of the tournament hasn't helped the Wahine to concentrate. This is the week before final exams and players have had to bring their books to study.

Hawaii is favored to at least get past its first opponent in this year's 16-team national tournament.

UC San Diego (11-14), ranked 12th nationally, was clobbered twice in February by the Wahine (17-6, 14-4) at the Duke Kahanamoku Pool.

But Baird-Smart cautioned that when the Tritons visited Hawaii they were without their leading scorer.

Last year, Hawaii entered the national tournament with a 29-12 record, won its first two games and finished fourth in a 12-team field.

Baird-Smart said the two-year-old Hawaii water polo program, a product of Title IX, faced a major challenge getting into its second national tournament.

"We had a lot tougher schedule this season," she said.

"We had to play (No. 1) USC and (No. 4) UCLA four times each and they account for eight of our 13 losses."

If the Wahine get past their first opponent tomorrow, they will get a five-hour break and then probably have to take on UCLA in the afternoon. The Bruins are favored to beat No. 13 Maryland (22-8) in their opening round game.

The Bruins (21-9) were the last team to beat Hawaii. They took a 14-5 decision at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships in Los Angeles on April 10.

"If we win both games Friday, we would play one on Saturday and one on Sunday," said Baird-Smart.

She said she will probably start junior driver Denise Perreira in place of Hill.

The Wahine swept through the National Qualifications tournament in Puyallup, Wash., April 17-18, beating Simon Fraser, Western Washington, Oregon and No. 20 Washington.

Baird-Smart said a banquet will be held to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the women's water polo championships this weekend. She played driver for UC Santa Barbara in the first tournament.

Women's water polo will be an official medal sport at the Summer Olympics for the first time next year in Sydney. Baird-Smart said some members of the U.S. national team will attend the banquet.

"The sport is still in its infancy," she said.

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