Kamehameha’s embarrassment of riches left coach Dan Lyons with a good problem to have.
The Warriors rampaged through their fifth straight undefeated Big Island Interscholastic Federation water polo season, outscoring opponents 193-48, and then came the hard part.
“I’ve got six or seven girls who are equally talented,” Lyons said. “Who do I nominate for Player of the Year?”
It’s Kamehameha’s uncanny depth that gives Lyons more outward optimism than usual heading into the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament, which begins today at the Warriors’ Naeole Pool in Keaau.
BIIF runner-up Kealakehe (9-3) faces Roosevelt of the Oahu Interscholastic Association at 7 p.m. today in the first round. After a bye, the fourth-seeded Warriors (12-0) will face either Mililani or Leilehua of the OIA in the quarterfinals at 6 p.m. Thursday.
“I think what makes us tough is we don’t have just one player that you have to stop or one person you can key on,” Lyons said. “I’m not sure many other teams can put as many talented players in the pool.”
Usually Kamehameha relies on one or two surefire superstars, but this season Kamehameha’s balance was somewhat remarkable: Junior Halia Nahale-a led the team with 30 goals, while senior Cassidy Fratinardo scored 29, which was one more than senior Chloe Martins-Keliihoomalu and sophomore Katelynn Kubo. Senior Acacia Trusdell posted 27 goals and junior Pua Wong added 26.
Mehana Pilago tallied a BIIF-high 56 goals for the Waveriders, but Lyons said the Warriors made a concerted effort to slow her down when the teams played, twice holding her two goals, including a 15-4 victory Saturday in the BIIF title game.
“Mehana is a force, but that’s the beauty of our defense,” Lyons said. “We put our best defender on Mehana, and the others were able to coordinate and deny her the ball.”
Defeating unseeded teams from the OIA at states hasn’t been a problem for Kamehameha of late, but the Interscholastic League of Honolulu is a different animal altogether. The past two seasons, the Warriors were seeded third only to bow out to the ILH runner-up in the quarterfinals en route to finishing fifth.
“The No. 4 seed is a welcome change,” Lyons said.
If Kamehameha can handle it first assignment Thursday, it would more than likely face top-seeded Punahou, the six-time defending state champions from the ILH, under the lights on Friday night.
The scenario played out the last time states was held at Naeole Pool in 2011. The Buffanblu won that semifinal 22-9, but Kamehameha earned the respect of Punahou coach Ken Smith and went on to place fourth, its best HHSAA finish.
“Ken Smith still talks about that being one of the toughest games his girls have had to play,” Lyons said. “The score might not have showed it, but we gave them everything they wanted. They know we came at them and never stopped.
“Punahou may not be as dominate as they’ve been in the past, but they are obviously the favorites. I hope we get the opportunity to play them.”
Lyons said the Warriors would watch with great interest today as the Waveriders return to state competition for the first time since 2010.
In addition to Pilago at the 2-meter position, Marissa Bryant-Manago recorded six hat tricks in BIIF play with 29 goals and Naomi Tomlinson found the net 21 times.
“If Kealakehe wins, that would give us a great boost of confidence,” Lyons said.
At Naeole Pool, Keaau
Mililani vs. Leilehua, 3:15 p.m.
Iolani vs. Kaiser, 4:30 p.m.
Baldwin vs. Kapolei, 5:45 p.m.
Kealakehe vs. Roosevelt, 7 p.m.
No. 3 Lahainaluna vs. Iolani-Kaiser winner, 2:15 p.m.
No. 2 Kahuku vs. Kealakehe-Roosevelt winner, 3:30 p.m.
No. 1 Punahou vs. Baldwin-Kapolei winner, 4:45 p.m.
No. 4 Kamehameha-Hawaii vs. Mililani-Leilehua winner, 6 p.m.
Seventh-place semifinal: Mililani-Leilehua loser vs. Baldwin-Kapolei loser, 1 p.m.
Lahainaluna/Iolani-Kaiser winner vs. Kahuku/Kealakehe-Roosevelt winner, 4:45 p.m.
Punahou/Baldwin-Kapolei winner vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii/Mililani-Leilehua winner, 6 p.m.
Seventh-place semifinal: Iolani-Kaiser loser vs. Kealakehe-Roosevelt loser, 1 p.m.
Lahainaluna/Iolani-Kaiser loser vs. Kahuku/Kealakehe-Roosevelt loser, 2:15 p.m.
Punahou/Baldwin-Kapolei loser vs. Kamehameha-Hawaii/Mililani-Leilehua loser, 3:30 p.m.
Championship, 3 p.m
Third place, 1:30 p.m.
Fifth place, 12:15 p.m.
Seventh place, 11 a.m.