By MATT GERHART
Tribune-Herald sports writer
KEAAU — Dan Lyons calls his gig the easiest in the world.
Sitting in his office adjacent to Naeole Pool at Kamehameha, Lyons knows it’s 3:30 because his girls water polo team has, again, started practice without him.
He’ll probably check in on them in 30 minutes to start a scrimmage. But if he didn’t, he’s confident things would run smoothly.
“To a certain extent, this team coaches itself,” Lyons said.
The Warriors sure make it look easy.
In going unbeaten — and largely untested — the past four seasons in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, Kamehameha has followed a time-tested strategy.
To start, Warriors jump in the pool and overwhelm teams with their aggressive style, forcing turnovers to fuel counter-attacks.
“Coach Dan tells us that if you don’t want to be touching people and you’re afraid to get hit, this isn’t the game for you,” senior Cassidy Fratinardo said. “I think the physical nature of the game is something that attracts players.”
The Warriors begin intense and they don’t let up. Once they’ve attained a big lead, Lyons substitutes liberally. Perhaps his proudest accomplishment is only one of his players has failed to get into a BIIF game during the past 11 seasons. He blamed the sole omission on a clerical error.
“When we talk about playing in a game, we’re talking about them playing significant minutes,” Lyons said. “That’s an artwork all to itself. I’ve got 27 players to get in the (28-minute) game. It’s a challenge.”
The system produces seasoned players such as senior Acacia Trusdell, who is in the mix to replace Sydney Plunkett, last season’s BIIF player of the year, as the Warriors’ inside presence.
“I think we have the ability to couch ourselves,” she said. “We have so many players who know their way around the game. We know how to improve, and the seniors help guide the youngsters each year.”
And Lyons wants his players to have a good time, taking the game seriously, but not themselves. He prefers a fun-loving group that plays disciplined yet with an edge.
Pool party, anyone?
“The one thing I really like about our team is our sense of humor,” Fratinardo said. “Coach was telling us, ‘If you guys look at yourselves, people think you’re not disciplined. In actuality, you know when to have fun and then when it’s time to be serious. But there’s also fun in that serious.’
“That’s really important for the team because water polo is really hard, but the lightness of Coach Dan makes it more enjoyable. I know when I get stressed is when I tend to make mistakes.”
The season starts today with five matches on tap at Kona Community Aquatic Center, and it will end with the Hawaii High School Athletic Association championships at Naeole Pool on April 30-May 3.
The Warriors, who have finished fifth at states the past two seasons, might not feature dynamic goal-scorers like they’ve had in each of the previous four years, but Lyons sees a team that may be stronger in other areas.
Juniors Halia Nahale-a and Pua Wong each pitched in to substitute for Plunkett at 2-meter last season, and they figure to form a strong rotation at the position along with Trusdell.
“I don’t think that will be a weakness,” Trusdell said. “We have a lot of potential in our girls. Pua has been training at 2-meter defender, and Halia has been playing since she was a freshman.”
The group on the perimeter at attacker includes Fratinardo as well as junior Chloe Martins-Keliihoomalu and sophomore Katelynn Kubo.
Martins-Keliihoomalu scored goals in bunches last season, while Kubo is one of the team’s fastest swimmers. She took silver in the 50-yard freestyle at BIIFs on Feb. 1.
For all of their water polo success, the Warriors haven’t had many swimming medalists on their teams.
“I think the funny thing about our team is we’re a pretty fast team,” Lyons said. “Generally at the state level, we can swim with anybody. But it’s funny, in high school swimming (meets), we’re nothing.”
Senior Kelly Fitzgerald enters her third season at goalkeeper, but Lyons said junior Jeyci Kaili would also see time in net so the Warriors can take advantage of Fitzgerald’s strength and swimming skills at attacker.
Lyons liked the glimpses of dominance he saw from his squad in a preseason meet last Saturday, but he also came away impressed with Kealakehe’s Mehana Pilago, calling the senior 2-meter player a potential Player of the Year candidate.
“She could be the best player on the island,” he said.