Led by a dominating perfomrance in goal by Emalia Eichelberger, Punahou raced past Kameahameha, 9-1, to win a ninth consecutive girls water polo crown, and eleventh overall, at the Stanford Carr Development/HHSAA Girls Water Polo Championships at the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex in front of a crowd of approximately 300 Saturday.
"Its a lot of excitement to win it, we definitely work hard for every single one," said Eichelberger. "Getting back into it (every season) and knowing the legacy to uphold, its almost like every state title adds a lot more pressure each time it happens."
Eichelberger sparkled in goal for Punahou, stopping nearly everything the Warriors tried to throw her way en route to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
The senior goal keeper stopped six shots and influenced at least a half dozen others with what seemed like impossible reach and quickness.
"I felt really good in goal today," remarked Eichelberger. "The entire tournament prior to this, I had really tight hamstrings the two previous games, but today they cleared up and I was feeling good."
As if Eichelberger's presence in goal wasn't already enough, her teammates were just as stifling in the field, and kept the Warriors from developing any offensive continuity all game long.
"Its been amazing," said Eichelberger of her teammates play on defense. "There have been some games this year when I don't even make a save because they've been doing such a great job with defense."
Micaela Kauhane got Punahou on the board first with the game's opening score at 4:21 mark in first, as she lasered a shot off that glanced off the keeper's fingertips and into the back of the net.
Marissa Miller added a goal at the 2:22 mark, tucking a shot just inside the post on the left side to put the Buffanblu up 2-0.
After an exclusion penalty at the 1:32 mark, Kamehameha had another chance to get on the board, but a shot by from about 20 feet out hit the post again to thwart a prime opportunity for the Warriors with the Buffanblu a player down.
While Kamehameha came up empty on scoring chances, Punahou made the most of opportunities.
The Buffanblu capitalized on an exclusion penalty at the 1:59 mark, with Natassia Dunn scoring easily from the right side with the Warriors in a man down situation to push the lead to three.
Then in the waning moments before halftime, a second exlusion penalty resulted in another man-down situation, and Miller pounced, finding Dunn with a pretty pass that converted into another score for Punahou with just over 20 seconds left in the half that increased the margin to 4-0 at the intermission.
Coming out of the break, Punahou's Dani Kauahi placed a shot just wide of the left post on a long swim that could have been spotted the Buffanblu a five goal spread, but what resulted was a Kamehameha counter following the miss that ended with Kaylen Nitahara finally breaking through offensively for Kamehameha with an arcing shot that escaped the reach of Eichelberger by inches to put the Warriors on the board at the 5:42 mark of the third.
Seemingly unfazed, the quick striking offense of the Buffanblu didn't skip a beat, and rather, seemed to click into an even higher gear in the latter stages as the Warriors wore down, highlighted by a well over 2/3 length of the pool pass from Eichelberger to Kauahi that resulted in an exclusion penalty on the Warriors, and led to a subsequent score by Saki Migliorato to extend the Buffanblu lead to 6-1.
Migliorato then turned defense into offense in the latter stages of the period, converting a steal at mid-pool into a goal to extend the margin to six with just under 40 seconds left in the third.
Then for good measure, Eichelberger went with the deep ball one last time to close out the third, hitting Miller in stride with a pretty pass that was converted into a pirouetting goal with just three seconds left to give Punahou a 8-1 lead heading into the final period of play.
"We're really big with trying to leave early on counterattack, we're a big counterattacking team" said Eichelberger. "So I think we did a good job with that, and really communicate well when to leave so there wasn't someone left behind wide open."
Finally in the fourth, Dunn put the finishing touches on the Buffanblu victory, as she elevated over a defender in the two meter area for her third score of the evening at the 5:48 mark to cap the scoring for the state champs.
Stanford Carr Development/HHSAA Water Polo State Championship All-Tournament Team
as selected by the HHSAA
Payton Bosque, Kamehameha
Natassia Dunn, Punahou
Marissa Miller, Punahou
Saki Migliorato Punahou
Kaylen Nitahara, Kamehameha
India Pyzel, Kahuku
Goalkeeper: Jordan Ehara, KS-Kapalama
Most Outstanding Player: Emalia Eichelberger, Punahou
Both teams will play at Mililani on Tuesday night.
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