Championing water polo
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Ken Smith has coached Punahou to 26 Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships. He ranks this year's team among his best for its "enthusiasm, attitude, and all those intangibles."
Gregory Yamamoto The Honolulu Advertiser
Punahou won its third consecutive Interscholastic League of Honolulu championship on Friday, beating Iolani, 12-6, at Kamehameha Schools pool.
The victory wrapped up Punahou's 8-0 season and provided Smith his 26th ILH championship in the last 29 years.
"For enthusiasm, attitude, and all those intangibles, this team ranks up with any team we've had," said Smith, 55. "I think from improvement from day one to the end, this team ranks up there. There wasn't a day you didn't look forward to going to practice."
For nearly three decades, Smith's Buffanblu teams have shown an appetite for training and hard work. This season, his team devoured practices and asked for seconds.
After a hard-fought win over Iolani earlier this season, Smith said many of his players asked if they could practice the next morning on Saturday.
"It wasn't my idea, it wasn't any of the coaches' idea," Smith said of the unplanned practice. "This is what these guys are all about. They're having so much fun. I told that to the other coaches and they were kind of dumbfounded that they wanted to work out the next morning."
Smith said one of the secrets to his coaching longevity has been the character of his players.
"I've always been blessed with players who just want to train hard," he said. "And how can you deny them? It's just the players' enthusiasm over the years."
Iolani coach Mark Cornish called Smith a master motivator. Cornish, who is in his third year as Iolani coach, played under Smith on the Hawaiian Islands summer teams in the '80s and now co-coaches the summer team with the veteran coach.
"He can really bring the best out of a player," Cornish said. "He finds ways to motivate players so they can rise above themselves. He gives them confidence. It's tough to beat a team when every guy on the other team is confident that they can win every time."
That winning attitude has rubbed off on Smith's players, particularly his four seniors, Ken Morgan, Forrest Schwartz, C.J. Smith and Robby Field.
In the championship game, Schwartz, Morgan and Smith combined for nine of Punahou's 12 goals and Field, a 6-foot-1 goalie, protected the lead and triggered the team's counter-strike offense.
"Ken has really given us a love for water polo," Morgan said. "It's been such a big part of our lives. He's taken us to the Mainland and different countries to play. It means so much to us, but you can tell it means so much more to him."
C.J., the coach's son, said he faced great expectations from his father, but said he treasured the time spent with him.
"He's definitely made me a better player," said C.J. "I'm around him so much. Every day we talk about water polo. Every day I look forward to practice. It's because of him. I'm going to miss him a lot."