Full speed ahead for Punahou water polo
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Freestyle sprinters Nick Borreca, left, and Nick Tyau lead a potent counter-attack for the Punahou water polo team.
Deborah Booker The Honolulu Advertiser
Longtime Punahou boys coach Ken Smith proved that, and the result this year is one of the Buffanblu's fastest water polo teams ever.
Punahou, which has won 25 of the past 28 Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships, is off to another quick start thanks in large part to a group of sprinters from the school's swim team.
The fastest of the bunch is senior driver Nick Borreca, who set two meet freestyle records (50 and 100 meters) at the Local Motion State Swimming Championships in February.
Aviv Grill, a senior whom Smith regards as a college water polo prospect, was second in the state in the 100 butterfly and was a member of the winning 200 freestyle relay team.
And Nick Tyau, a senior field player, was third in the state 100 freestyle.
"They are very fast, and you can see the difference in their counter-attack," said Kamehameha water polo coach Alex Webb, whose Warriors lost to Punahou, 15-3, in last week's ILH season opener. "You can also see it when we try to counter-attack them. They just beat us down the pool. They're an extremely fast, well-coached team."
While fast swimmers and the sport of water polo appear to be a natural match, it doesn't always work out that way. Especially in the past, many club swimming coaches have discouraged their swimmers from playing water polo.
Some swim coaches believe water polo is a distraction, others fear injury because of the sport's physical demands. And some simply want swimmers under their watchful eye year-round.
"The coaches who still think that way are living in ancient times," Iolani coach Mark Cornish said. "There's no question that water polo makes you stronger in the water, and there's a general trend where you're seeing more top swimmers playing water polo. In Europe, they already understand that."
The Buffanblu sprinters swear by water polo and say it has improved their swimming performances.
"It adds strength and endurance," Grill said. "We won the state 200 and 400 (freestyle) relays last year, and the guys on those teams are water polo players."
Likewise, the speed of those swimmers gives Punahou's water polo team another dimension.
"Our swimming puts us over the edge, that's our key," Grill said. "It helps in our counter-attack, and we can put a lot of pressure on the other team."
A counter-attack occurs after a shot is misfired or the ball is turned over. Once possession is changed, the counter-attacking team will race down the length of the pool to try and score in transition.
"It's like a fast break in basketball, you get that one-on-one feel," Cornish said. "Punahou is a real fast team, and they use their speed well in their counter-attack. When a team makes a mistake, they can really take control on offense."
The basketball analogy is not by chance. Alan Lum, who coached the Punahou boys basketball team for about a decade before stepping down after last season, has joined the Buffanblu water polo program this year as an assistant to Smith.
"A lot of the concepts are similar in both sports," Smith said. "We're trying to use some ideas from basketball to help us."
Punahou, now 2-0 after beating Pac-Five, 12-6, Friday, again is the favorite in the four-team ILH Division I. The Buffanblu's biggest challenge may come from Iolani, which plays host to Punahou Friday at 6:15 p.m.
The Raiders, also 2-0, are led by sophomore 2-meter player Damon Jones, senior driver Ian Kusao and sophomore goalie James Street. Iolani lost seven seniors from last year's team, but Cornish said he is so far impressed by his team's attitude and conditioning.
"These guys like to work hard, and the practices are enjoyable to go to," Cornish said. "We're definitely improving, and we're in better shape than we were last year. We know we can go four hard quarters."
Webb said Kamehameha will be led by senior goalie Alex Stachel, junior hole set/outside shooter Patrick Stachel and hole set/outside shooter Kiel Nash.
Unlike Punahou, less than one-third of Kamehameha's team is made up of competitive swimmers.
Webb said more swimmers, and their coaches, should consider water polo's advantages.
"Water polo creates continuous swimming training in a teamwork-oriented way," he said. "Swimming mostly is an individual task that some kids have to work at day-in, day-out for 12 months. That can get tedious.
"Water polo is a good respite from that."