By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Sometime in August, Sydney Plunkett will make her first trip to Notre Dame College. Shortly thereafter, Falcons water polo coach Matt Kittle finally will get to see Plunkett in action.
From what they’ve been told, they’ll like what they see. Cleveland is a good 4,500 miles from the Plunkett family home in Waimea, but word of mouth travels fast and far.
Plunkett, a recent Kamehameha graduate, heard good things from Warriors coach Dan Lyons, especially after he got back from visiting daughters Kanoe and Ryenn, a pair of Kamehameha graduates who are entering their second seasons at Notre Dame after transferring.
“Honestly, I trust Coach (Lyons),” said Plunkett, who had also considered walking on at the University of Hawaii. “I thought it was a sign. Kanoe and Ryenn both went to different colleges, then went to Notre Dame and said it was amazing. I figured I’d trust their judgment.”
And it doesn’t hurt, Plunkett added, that Notre Dame, an NCAA Division II school in the suburb of South Euclid, Ohio, just to the east of Cleveland, is “giving me a lot of money to go there.
After she committed in the spring, Plunkett said that Kittle was able to come up with a package of athletic and academic scholarships that will cover roughly 75 percent of her financial aid.
The reality of college water polo is that many coaches never get to see the players they recruit. But Kittle got good references on Plunkett from the Lyons clan, and most of all he liked what he heard in his conversations with Plunkett herself.
“She has a great attitude, always positive and she likes to work extremely hard,” Kittle said. “The kinds of players I like are the ones that you can give a challenge. And no matter how much hard it is, they accept it.”
Plunkett will be part of an eight-member recruiting class and doesn’t expect to redshirt for the Falcons, who are coming off a 6-16 record in the College Water Polo Association in the program’s third season.
Kanoe Lyons earned second-team All-American honors as a sophomore in Notre Dame’s first year as a full-fledged D-II member.
“I think (Sydney) will have the opportunity to be a major contributor pretty quickly,” Kittle said.
With imposing size (5 feet, 9 inches) and strength, Plunkett certainly made an impact at Kamehameha. She drew interest from the volleyball and basketball coaches, but Dan Lyons plucked her out of the water during a physical education class her freshman year and asked her if she’d ever considered water polo.
“I had no idea what it was,” Plunkett said.
She went on to play all four seasons and became a cornerstone of Warriors teams that won four consecutive Big Island Interscholastic Federation championships without losing a league game.
A prolific scorer from the 2-meter position, continued the legacy of Kanoe Lyons (2007 graduate) and Ryenn Lyons (2011) in winning BIIF Player of the Year her senior year. It still stings her, however, that she was left off the All-Hawaii High School Athletic Association team after Kamehameha lost to Iolani in its first game at states and wound up in fifth place.
“With (BIIF Player of the Year), I was honored to follow in the Lyons’ footsteps,” Plunkett said. “But I’m never satisfied. I appreciate it, but I’m already looking for the next thing.”
Her old and new coach think she can find that at Notre Dame, where she might move from 2-meter to wing to start her career.
“She’s extremely talented, very strong, yet still somewhat inexperienced, and I think that creates a huge upside,” Dan Lyons said. “She’s definitely going to start, but she’s still got some developing to do. She’ll get good coaching and has the skill-set to be one of the best players in the country.”
Notre Dame, a Catholic, liberal arts school with approximately 2,100 students, sponsors an impressive 22 sports, the second-highest for any college in Ohio behind only Division I behemoth Ohio State.
And while the Falcons have made a concerted effort to improve their sports programs and their facilities, Kittle said the school is anything but an athletic factory.
“Athletes are not treated any differently than the rest of the students,” Kittle said. “They’re not being catered to.”
Plunkett, the second oldest of Scott and Christine Plunkett’s four children, is considering majoring in either biology or pre-med.
For four years, she commuted from Waimea to Keaau, waking up at 4:30 a.m. and often not getting home until 8:30 p.m.
Now she’s looking forward to getting away and living on a campus, though when she tells Big Islanders where she’s going to school, some ask: “You’re moving from here to Ohio?”
“Moving from Cleveland will be a big shellshock. I’m expecting different,” Plunkett said. “Everyone keeps warning me about the snow. You’d be surprised how many people here have lived in Ohio.
“I think I’m going to enjoy something new.”