ILH girls water polo reaches high-water mark
By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer
Girls water polo "has come of age" in Hawai'i, says its most energetic booster, Punahou School coach Ken Smith. Anybody who wants proof, Smith says, is invited to come watch the Interscholastic League of Honolulu tournament championship game Friday at 6 p.m. at the Iolani School pool.
"The quality of play of all the girls has gotten a lot better," says Smith, a water polo All-American at UCLA in the late 1960s. Four 11th graders were picked two weeks ago by U.S. Water Polo for its Pacific Northwest zone team and will get to try out for the U.S. Junior National team.
Two ILH seniors are being recruited actively by California colleges and could receive much of their tuition free.
His own team has dominated eight opponents so thoroughly that one might expect some complacency, but it isn't like that, Smith insists. "The girls on our team are so into it, they train so hard. . . . I look forward to going to every practice."
Punahou's two seniors are the first girls who have been in the program since seventh grade, playing at intermediate, varsity II and varsity I levels. "We have a lot more experience than ever before," Smith said.
"We're really strong because of our swimmers . . . speed and endurance," he said.
Four of Punahou's water polo players won 10 medals, including four golds, at the state swimming championships in February.
"They are great, great girls . . . and very tough," Smith added.
Annie Richardson, water polo co-Player of the Year last season as a sophomore, scored a season-high six goals in Punahou's last game, Saturday against Kamehameha.
Senior Tiana Johnson is being recruited by University of California-Irvine.
Richardson, Katie Flanagan, Daya Mau and goalkeeper Meagan Fawcett all juniors were chosen by U.S. Water Polo to try out for the Junior National team.
The other ILH player being actively recruited is Pac-Five goalkeeper Jessica Isaacs, who could wind up at UC-Irvine or Long Beach State.
While the ILH is finishing its fifth season (Punahou has been its only champion), the first official NCAA women's water polo championships will be held this weekend with three Punahou alumnae participating Maureen Flanagan, Katie's sister, plays for UCLA, while Brown boasts captain Tori Barbata and Noel Pacarro.
Stanford and Loyola Marymount are the other teams in the collegiate final four.
This week's ILH schedule started last night with Pac-Five defeating Kamehameha, 5-4, for third place in the round-robin season.
Tomorrow, Pac-Five plays Iolani at 4:45 p.m. and the loser plays Punahou at 6 at Iolani in the semifinals of the championship tournament.
Tomorrow's winners play at 6 p.m. Friday at Iolani for the tournament championship. Tomorrow's losers play for third at 4:45.
If Punahou does not win the championship tournament, it gets a second chance to win the overall title on Saturday.
"Girls water polo has proven a real viable sport," Smith says. "It should be in every school in the state."
There is a five-school "pilot league" on the Big Island this spring that is expected to be official next year. A few schools on Maui have played and Kahuku is the major player among O'ahu's public schools with some others combining for a team.
"Every school in the state" might be a way off strange for a state surrounded by so much water but enough participation for a state tournament might be less than five years away, Smith hopes.
DUNKS: Ken Smith is in his 27th year at Punahou, his fifth as coach of both boys and girls teams. The boys play in the fall. Punahou has won 25 ILH boys championships, 24 since Smith became coach. Iolani won six of seven B.S. (before Smith). . . . One observer said that Punahou's team next season "may be one of most dominant girls teams in any sport ever in Hawai'i." Only one senior starts and two are on the roster. . . . The Big Island may play boys water polo in the fall. Athletic directors feel a water polo program will lead to more boys' participation in the swimming season that follows it.