Hawaiian Electric Game of the Week
ILH foes Punahou, Kamehameha to square off for state title

A fifth and final meeting between Interscholastic League of Honolulu rivals Punahou and Kamehameha will decide the state champion.

The top-seeded Buffanblu (10-0) will meet the Warriors (6-4) in the title match of the Stanford Carr Development, LLC/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Girls Water Polo State Championships.

Match time is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at the University of Hawaii's Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex.

All four of Kamehameha's losses this season have come at the hands of Punahou.

It's not just the Warriors that the Buffanblu have dominated. It's pretty much everyone.

Under its legendary coach Ken Smith, Punahou has appeared in 10 previous state tournaments and won all of them, including the last eight. With their semifinal win over Roosevelt Thursday night, the Buffanblu are now 32-0 all-time in state-tournament matches.

"They're tough," Kamehameha first-year coach Randy Bart said. "They are better than us in every category: size, speed, experience, so it's a David-and-Goliath matchup, but I believe our girls are tough. They're game, so we'll see what happens. Play hard for three quarters and see what happens going into the fourth and go from there."

Punahou, much as it did in the regular season, has cruised through its first two state tournament games. It defeated Kaiser, 18-4, in a quarterfinal game Wednesday and dispatched Roosevelt by a score of 17-2 Thursday.

The Buffanblu have scored double-digit goals in every game this season. They have not allowed more than five goals by a single opponent. The closest margin of victory was a 10-3 win at Kamehameha on Apr. 1.

Smith said the steady play of seniors Emalia Eichelberger, Natassia Dunn and Saki Migliorato has been a big reason for his team's success this season.

"It's kind of the analogy in football where you have the center, the fullback and the quarterback — that core down the middle — or the catcher, second baseman, shortstop and center fielder in baseball and we kind of have that because we have Emalia as our goalie, and then we have Natasha who is a real good defense, and then we've got Saki as our center offensive player, so down the middle we're strong and then the other people fill in really well so it's nice to have that down the middle."

As one-sided as the results have been, Smith said the Buffanblu have faced their share of adversity this season.

"Our last game against Kamehameha we were behind at the end of the first quarter and we hadn't been behind all season, so that's a great thing to see how you're going to respond to that and they responded really well," Smith said. "They played great overall the rest of the game, so it's almost a battle with yourself because you've got to keep working hard and our schedule, we don't have a lot of games with breaks in between that, so that makes it hard to come and play at a high level without a lot of games."

Kamehameha has its own trio of standouts that it has relied upon this year in senior goalie Jordan Ehara, who made 12 saves in her team's 5-2 semifinal win over Kahuku Friday, and juniors Peyton Bosque and Kaylen Nitahara. Bosque has 10 goals in the tournament, including three Friday, and Nitahara has found the back of the net eight times this week.

"They're our big three," Bart said. "They're the vocal cheerleaders, the leaders by example, the leaders in the pool. They play twelve months during the year. They work hard during the offseason to just get bigger, faster, stronger, so they're kind of our go-to-girls and everybody kind of rides with them."

Bart, who has coached the Kamehameha boys the past three seasons, got a late start with the girls this year.

"Last year's team was really senior-heavy; I think all but one starter was a senior and then the two coaches stepped down, so there was king of a big vacuum pretty much up until we started the season in February and the first half of the season we had no leadership from the girls," Bart said. "Everything was coming from me and you can't build a team that way, but by spring break Kaylen, Peyton, Jordan and Keylee Leong, they were speaking up and they were getting the girls in the water, they were kind of policing the team and being the den-mom. That needed to happen. They were kind of everything at that point and it's been their team ever since."

Smith, for one, has taken notice of the Warriors' over the course of the season.

"Kamehameha, we're really familiar with them. They've got some players that can shoot the ball, they're real offensive," Smith said. "Randy has done a great job of coaching them. I think they're probably the most improved team, so it'll definitely be a good game."

The Warriors are seeking their second state title and first since 2006.

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].



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