Historic Hawai’i season ends with close loss to California in national semifinals

Historic Hawai’i season ends with close loss to California in national semifinals

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine water polo head coach Maureen Cole waves to the crowd following a match for UH. Hawai’i’s season came to an end on Saturday, May 11 in the national semifinals, falling to #3 Cal, 9-6. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Historic Hawai’i season ends with close loss to California in national semifinals

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 11, 2024

All good things must come to an end. 

An all-time great season for the Rainbow Wahine water polo program came to a close on Saturday afternoon as 2nd-seeded Hawai’i (23-4) fell in the National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship semifinals to 3rd-seeded California, 9-6. The hosting Bears’ defense put a straitjacket on the Rainbow Wahine offense, holding Hawai’i to a 2-for-17 clip on 6-on-5 advantage opportunities throughout the day. 

That defensive effort combined with a six-goal avalanche in the 2nd quarter from California (19-6) proved to be enough to down the number two team in the country as the Bears advanced to the program’s first national championship appearance since 2011 and second overall. Hawai’i’s season closes after advancing to the nation’s final four for the first time since 2013. 

“I’m just really proud of the Wahine team for this year, this season,” veteran Hawai’i head coach Maureen Cole said following the loss. “This game in particular didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but they fought until the end and that’s just a testament to the people they are.” 

The loss closes the coaching career of the Hawai’i water polo legend in Cole, who now heads into retirement as the all-time wins leader in program history. For the Punahou School graduate and former UCLA three-time national champion in her own playing days, there was no group of people she would have wanted to enjoy her final season at the helm with. 

“A great group of girls,” the 13-year head coaching veteran gushed. “There’s no group I would want to spend the last nine months with and I’m just really proud of their efforts. It’s sports. There’s a winner, there’s a loser. These were two evenly matched teams, [and] we couldn’t put the ball away very well today, they did. Credit to Cal … just wish this [season] could’ve gone on for another day, but proud of the team.” 

Cal provided an early jab, getting the scoring started early with the first two goals of the match to begin the 1st quarter before junior attacker Bernadette Doyle got Hawai’i on the board with her first goal at the 2:24 mark of the opening period. 

The 2nd quarter proved to be the difference as Cal’s offense delivered a haymaker with six goals in the frame while holding Hawai’i to two scores, dominating the first half’s exclusion chances with goals in 4-of-6 advantage opportunities while holding UH to 2-of-9 in first half 6-on-5’s. 

“The power play tells [the story] pretty much,” Cole said of the Rainbow Wahine’s offensive woes. “We weren’t putting the ball away … I thought we were getting good looks on the cage.” 

Hawai’i’s staunch defense settled back in during the 3rd quarter, holding Cal off the board entirely in the frame. Again, it was offensive struggles keeping the Rainbow Wahine at a deficit as the offense struggled to capitalize on chances on the net and scored only once in the defensive masterpiece of a quarter. 

Doyle pulled Hawai’i within three with her second goal of the contest coming a minute and a half into the final quarter, but an immediate answer from Cal’s Elena Flynn erased the effort quickly and gave the Bears a 9-5 lead. Still, Doyle wouldn’t allow the Rainbow Wahine to go quietly into the offseason as she completed her hat trick with her third goal of the game with 4:27 left in regulation. 

Hawai’i had another chance to pull within two with a penalty shot from five meters out with just under four minutes left, but it was saved and pushed wide of the post by Cal goal keeper Isabel Williams, who tallied 14 saves in the semifinal matchup and helped the Bears hold UH to a season-low in goals en route to the 9-6 victory for the 3rd-seed. 

Maryn Dempsey posted a hat trick of her own for the Bears, leading Cal with three scores while five other players found the back of the net for the hosting team. California advances to the national championship game to face the unbeaten top-seeded UCLA Bruins on Sunday. 

Hawai’i was led by Doyle’s trifecta of goals, her sixth hat trick of the season. Big West Player of the Year Bia Mantellato Dias followed closely with a pair of scores herself while senior Alba Bonamusa Boix closed her college career with one final goal for the Rainbow Wahine. 

“For this group, I think [this season] is historic,” Cole reflected on the year for Hawai’i. “We went undefeated in conference, the first time we had ever beaten Stanford, we beat USC twice. I mean, those are things that this group will never have taken away from them. This is the first time we’ve made [a national semifinal] in the new format, I know we’ve made it before but it’s harder to get here [now].” 

“I’ve been very proud to be a part of this team,” junior attacker Bernadette Doyle added. “We all worked really hard … I’m so happy I was able to be coached by Mo again and [associate head coach James Robinson]. It’s been a great year with the team, and we’ve just tried to make Hawai’i proud.” 

With the retirement of Cole, Robinson will step into the full-time head coaching role going forward for the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine program. Much like Cole, Robinson is a three-time national champion from his playing days in the pool at UCLA and came to the UH program after helping on the staff that led the 2021 UCLA women’s water polo team to a national championship appearance. 

“I think Coach Robinson is the best that there is [and] that Hawai’i is in phenomenal hands,” an emotional Maureen Cole responded about the future of the program. “That is really why I’m at complete peace walking away. I always want to leave things better than I found it and I think I did that, and I think the program is going to be better off with him leading the program moving forward. I’m excited for him, he’s as good as they get.” 

Hawai’i advances to first NCAA Semifinal since 2013 with big win over Princeton

Hawai’i advances to first NCAA Semifinal since 2013 with big win over Princeton

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine water polo head coach Maureen Cole looks on during a match for UH. The Rainbow Wahine were 11-6 winners over Princeton in the National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship quarterfinals on Friday, May 10. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i advances to first NCAA Semifinal since 2013 with big win over Princeton

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 10, 2024

From second season to swan song, the NCAA Semifinal round has become Hawai’i head coach Maureen Cole’s ultimate hill to climb.  

A dream season rolled on for Cole’s Rainbow Wahine water polo team Friday afternoon, as the 2nd-seeded Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (23-3) turned in an impressive 11-6 victory over the Princeton Tigers in the National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship quarterfinals. Behind junior utility Jordan Wedderburn’s game-best three goals, Hawai’i was able to rattle off the team’s 11th consecutive victory after an 11-day layoff leading into the tournament. 

The hat trick for Wedderburn was the South Africa native’s fifth of the season, pacing the Rainbow Wahine to a consistent attack that built a comfortable lead for Hawai’i with a strong response after Princeton won the opening sprint and scored on a power play just over thirty seconds into the game. 

Alba Bonamusa Boix got Hawai’i on the board with her first goal of the match at the 6:01 mark of the 1st quarter and fellow senior Lot Stertefeld gave the Rainbow Wahine their first lead with just over four minutes left in the opening frame with her lone goal of the afternoon. Freshman Agatha Weston got in on the act just before the end of the period with a goal from straightaway to give a 3-1 lead to UH heading into the 2nd quarter. 

Bonamusa Boix laced home her second goal of the game with 4:31 left in the opening half to extend the Hawai’i lead to 4-1 and Wedderburn got on the board herself with her first goal of the match just over a minute later to push the margin to four. Princeton settled with a goal to make it 5-2 with three minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, but back-to-back scores from Wedderburn and back-to-back Big West Player of the Year Bia Mantellato Dias gave the Rainbow Wahine a halftime lead by a handful, 7-2. 

The ‘Bows continued the onslaught in the 3rd quarter as Bernadette Doyle finished on a penalty opportunity less than a minute out of the break and quickly responded to a goal from Princeton with 5:19 left in the period with another score of her own just 36 seconds later to make it 9-3 in favor of UH. 

Wedderburn completed the hat trick with 2:12 remaining in the 3rd quarter, banking in the 10th goal of the day for Hawai’i before Roni Pearlman’s goal with 35 ticks left on the timer before the 4th quarter gave UH a commanding 11-3 lead. 

The Rainbow Wahine continued to hold the Tigers in check until Olivia Krotts was able to sneak a ball into the back of the UH net for her 20th goal of the season with 2:13 remaining. Kaila Carroll continued to play until the final horn for Princeton, drilling back-to-back goals within 57 seconds of each other to make it an 11-6 deficit before the buzzer sounded, sending Hawai’i to heights not seen since Maureen Cole’s 2nd season at the helm – into the semifinals as her swan song continues. 

In all, seven different Hawai’i players scored in the victory as Alba Bonamusa Boix and Bernadette Doyle chipped in a pair of goals each to cushion Wedderburn’s three-goal outing while pushing the Rainbow Wahine into a final four matchup with tournament host and 3rd-seeded California. 

Cal was a 14-7 winner over Fresno State on Friday, advancing to the semifinal round against Hawai’i. The Golden Bears were one of two teams that beat the Rainbow Wahine in the regular season, sneaking by the ‘Bows back on March 10 in Berkeley, 9-8. Hawai’i won the first meeting between the two back on February 24, 10-7, during the Barbara Kalbus Invitational in Irvine, California.  

2nd-seeded Hawai’i and 3rd-seeded California will meet in the semifinal round of the National Collegiate Women’s Water Polo Championship tournament with the match scheduled for 1:00 p.m. HT on NCAA.com – here. 

Hawai’i softball celebrates nine seniors after Cal State Fullerton series

Hawai’i softball celebrates nine seniors after Cal State Fullerton series

Hawai’i softball celebrates nine seniors following double-header against Cal State Fullerton. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i softball celebrates nine seniors after Cal State Fullerton series

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 4, 2024

HONOLULU – The weekend began on a high note and ended still with smiles despite a pair of Senior Day losses for the Hawai’i softball program. 

The Rainbow Wahine (20-23, 13-9 Big West) completed a 1-2 weekend against Big West leader Cal State Fullerton (34-16, 20-4 Big West) on Saturday, dropping a pair of games to the Titans, 4-0 and 8-0, before celebrating nine total seniors that will depart from the program following the season. Despite a pair of tough hitting outings for UH, the team was in good spirits as hundreds of fans remained to show their aloha for the team. 

CSUF started the scoring quickly in the final game of the three-game set, bringing home the game’s first run in the top of the 1st inning as Titans’ 1st baseman Kika Ramirez ripped an RBI single to center but was tagged out after pulling up lame rounding first base. Fullerton was able to add on two more runs in the top of the 2nd after a pair of throwing errors from the Rainbow Wahine. 

After being held off the board in the 3rd, Cal State Fullerton returned to scoring in the 4th with an RBI single from Candace Yingling to make it a 4-0 lead for the visitors. The Titans continued the stream of offensive production in the next inning as the they pushed the lead to 7-0 after two bases-loaded walks from UH and an RBI single to right by Kate Verhoef. 

On the brink of a mercy-rule ending in the 5th inning, Hawai’i head coach Bob Coolen took a moment to send injured senior Maya Nakamura into the game for a single pitch so that she could take the field one final time with the program’s other eight seniors. Nakamura, a 2019 Roosevelt graduate and multi-time all-Big West selection, watched one pitch while playing first before exiting to a loud standing ovation. 

While the ‘Bows escaped the 5th, they were not as lucky in the 6th as CSUF pushed across another run to go up by eight and sat down Hawai’i in order in the bottom of the inning to close the game in six, 8-0. 

Following the game, UH Athletics recognized the nine seniors from Cal State Fullerton ahead of the Rainbow Wahine senior ceremony. Before celebrating all nine Hawai’i seniors, the school took a moment to allow the five seniors that are finishing degrees this spring to walk and receive their diplomas as UH will be on the road during next week’s graduation ceremonies. 

Following the impromptu graduation ceremony, the program took time to recognize all nine seniors that will leave the Hawai’i program following the conclusion of the season. In order, they recognized: 

Chloee Agueda – Outfielder from French Camp, California 

McKenna Kostyszyn – Pitcher from Frisco, Texas 

Piper Neri – Outfielder from Manhattan Beach, California 

Malia Xiao Gin – Shortstop from San Luis Obispo, California 

Dallas Millwood – First Baseman from Mililani, O’ahu (KS-Kāpalama) 

Mya’Liah Bethea – Utility from Las Vegas, Nevada 

Haley Johnson – Catcher/First Baseman from San Diego, California 

Ka’ena Keliinoi – Utility from Wai’anae, O’ahu (St. Francis) 

Maya Nakamura – Utility from Honolulu, O’ahu (Roosevelt) 

After the lei ceremony with friends, family and the team, everyone in attendance was treated to a highlight package on the video board, courtesy of Spectrum Sports. The Rainbow Wahine will play one final series on the road next weekend at UC Davis, playing three against the Aggies to close out the season. 

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine utility player Lot Stertefeld handles the ball for UH in a match. The senior is one of four players that will be honored on April 13 for Senior Night. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility Lot Stertefeld

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 10, 2024

HONOLULU – Perhaps you don’t know her from her sport. You should, but you might not. 

Maybe, you recognize Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine utility player Lot Stertefeld from her day job, working as a student worker on campus serving concessions for Sodexo during other Hawai’i athletic events. 

As an international college student-athlete, Stertefeld must work on campus. With a full-time job’s worth of work in being an athlete, a full load of courses and the slightest social life, having work fit into a schedule can be difficult. Thanks in part to a flexible boss that helps get a schedule that works for the senior, Stertefeld and the Rainbow Wahine have been able to focus on one of the strongest seasons in program history. 

When Hawai’i enters the water on Saturday, it will mark one final time that a special group of four players, three from international backgrounds, take part in a match in the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex for the Rainbow Wahine. 

Emma Gurasich, Alba Bonamusa Boix, Lucia Gomez de la Puente and, of course, Stertefeld have all seen some incredible moments for the UH program, ranked an all-time program-high 2nd in the nation for the past seven weeks en route to a third regular-season Big West title in the past four seasons. 

From the eastern side of the Netherlands to the middle of the Pacific Ocean, success in the water polo pool is all Stertefeld has known. 

The senior utility player for Hawai’i comes from a water polo background, growing up with a father in Jaap Stertefeld that played the sport and was an official for water polo after his athletic career. With both parents pushing her and her two brothers to participate in team sports, soccer was the first try at athletics. 

“We tried soccer first and… that wasn’t it,” Stertefeld laughed. “My dad was like ‘let me take you to the pool’ and we signed up … I just loved [water polo] so much [that I kept playing].” 

Her two brothers, two and three years older in age, dove headfirst into the aquatic football activity as well, setting the tone and toughening up their younger sister. Stertefeld remembers family time competing on vacation in lakes against her dad and brothers in fun small-sided games. The conversation about water polo didn’t end when the family left the water, either. 

“[My family] are like, role models in water polo … All of our dinners are about water polo,” the senior utility chuckled. “My dad is a ref so he would give me tips, tell me what not to do or tell he saw that was wrong so that was fun on a dining table after a game.” 

Those tips, tricks and tune-ups worked to the favor of a young Stertefeld as she became an elite youth player, helping lead the Netherlands to a runner-up finish at both the U17 European Youth Championships in Serbia and the 2019 U20 World Youth Championships in Portugal. Her international experience also includes a bronze medal at the U20 European Youth Championships in 2019. 

When the time came for a decision on college, Hawai’i was the place that had caught the eye of the Dutch star with the assist of head coach Maureen Cole’s recruiting skills. After the 2019 World Youth Championships in Portugal, Cole sent a message to Stertefeld to test interest in joining the Rainbow Wahine program. To that point, a move to the United States had not crossed Stertefeld’s mind for more than a second. 

That changed after a few messages (and pictures) from Coach Mo. 

“She showed me some pictures of the islands and I was like ‘Sold!’ – like that’s amazing, [the outdoor pool], like all the pools back home are indoors, it’s always gloomy weather, it’s cold, it’s rainy,” Stertefeld said. “[In Hawai’i], it’s sunny all the time so it was an easy choice.” 

The opportunity to mix her prowess in the pool with her love for academics in the collegiate sports model in America also drew the interest of the Dutch standout. According to Stertefeld, it’s difficult to join education with athletics back home in the Netherlands and the chance to combine the two was a major factor in the move. 

Stertefeld has gone on to double-major, seeing herself dive into the world of both sociology and psychology as her majors. While rocking out in the pool, the senior has dominated in the classroom as well to the tune of multiple all-conference academic recognitions and a placement on the Big West Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a junior. 

Once she’s done in the islands, Stertefeld plans to pursue a masters’ degree in sports psychology in London with a desire to continue staying in athletics and working with future college student-athletes.  

The marriage in the pool has worked in both the senior and Hawai’i’s favor as the Rainbow Wahine have gone 66-17 over the four-season partnership, seeing three regular-season conference crowns and a Big West Championship win in Stertefeld’s freshman season – which she and other seniors referenced as one of their favorite memories while at UH. With a win on Saturday, Hawai’i would clinch the second perfect conference slate in the last three years and the third time since joining the Big West. 

Overall, Stertefeld has been a part of a historical group of Rainbow Wahine in the pool. For anyone who paid attention to her entire journey, the massive heights that the ‘Bows have reached this year and before are no surprise. For Stertefeld, the journey has been the transformative experience of a lifetime. 

“I feel like I just grew a lot here as a person,” the Dutch senior reflected. “The first time I’ve lived by myself, speaking different languages, meeting so many great people, getting to play under Coach Mo and Coach [James Robinson], I think [the entire experience has just] been great.” 

Hawai’i wraps up the regular season on Saturday, April 13 at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex against UC Santa Barbara at 6:00 p.m. HT and will honor four senior and head coach Maureen Cole, who is retiring after 13 seasons at the helm of the Rainbow Wahine program. UH enters the contest on a six-match winning streak and is looking for the second unbeaten conference season in the past three years. 

For the seniors, it’s about going out on the right note for themselves, Coach Mo, and the wonderful fans of Hawai’i. The experience is something that they will never forget. 

“I’m super grateful to have spent my years in Hawai’i and to play for such an amazing state,” Stertefeld reflected. “It just feels like we are so supported and loved and that’s just a really special feeling. I’m really thankful for that and I’m sad to leave but excited to look forward in my life.” 

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

Big West water polo player of the week Jordan Wedderburn in action in a home conference matchup. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i women’s water polo utility player Jordan Wedderburn

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 27, 2024

HONOLULU – From the stunning “City of Gold” in South Africa to heavenly Hawai’i, Jordan Wedderburn has enjoyed the journey that water polo has carried her on. 

She’s been a quick learner, picking up the sport in high school and taking the path she never truly expected. 

“Growing up [in South Africa], water polo wasn’t really a big sport, so I never really knew what it was until I moved high schools and my new high school that I went to offered water polo and I kind of wanted to try it,” Wedderburn said. “The rest is history; I just went from there.” 

While she’s grown to love the sport now, that same passion wasn’t necessarily there from Day 1 in the pool. 

“At first, I did swimming, and I did netball at home – which is kind of like basketball for those that don’t know. I was kind of just like it ‘oh well, it seems like it’s both of them put together and I’m kind of average at both of them, so I’ll try it out,’” Wedderburn recalled. “I actually hated it, like my first practice I hated it.” 

Yet thankfully, her parents would not allow the then-13-year-old to give up after a single day of the sport, encouraging her to return the next day and give it a week’s worth of a chance. 

That week didn’t change her mind, but it gave her parents enough time to think of a way to keep her in the sport for that season. 

“I went for the first week of practice which was like the worst week of practice ever because it was just conditioning,” Wedderburn laughed. “I didn’t want to carry on, I actually said to my parents that [I was done and didn’t want to go back]. They were like ‘Well, you’ve committed now so you have to go back for the whole season.’” 

After some encouragement from her parents, the young water polo player went back to the pool, making friends that kept her interest in the sport before she finally began enjoying water polo in her later years of high school. By learning the rules of the game, strategies and developing chemistry with her team, Wedderburn quickly developed into an excellent player. 

In four years at the varsity level, she helped lead her squad to back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020 in the Reef Cup and Old Petrian Tournaments, taking care of business in the classroom as well after receiving the academic award for her junior and senior years. After graduating in December 2020 from high school, Wedderburn had to make a choice between continuing her water polo career or turning focus fully on her studies. 

With the help of the coronavirus shutdown of the world and a strict lockdown in South Africa, Wedderburn decided she wanted to continue her career in the pool in the states and began to apply and reach out to schools with water polo programs, though one place sat in her mind. 

“Hawai’i was always in the back of my mind because … I met one of my teammates now, Bernadette Doyle, at World Champs in 2019 and I had heard that she played at the University of Hawai’i, and I was like ‘Wow, that’s so cool,” the junior utility player remembered. “I reached out to [head coach Maureen Cole] and we chatted a little bit and the rest is history. They offered me a spot on the team, and I was like ‘Okay, it’s Hawai’i, why would I say no?’” 

The junior utility player for Hawai’i women’s water polo has enjoyed success ever since joining the program ahead of that 2022 season, never seeing a schedule eclipse six total losses in two and a half years. She made her debut in her freshman season in Michigan, immediately making a mark by recording her first two points. In all, her first year at the college level was a success with 24 total points recorded (15 goals, 9 assists). 

Her growth continued from there, appearing in all 27 matches during Hawai’i’s 2023 season, seeing the Rainbow Wahine go 21-6 and falling in overtime of the Big West Championship game to UC Irvine, 10-9. In her sophomore season, the South African utility player proved to be a force for UH, scoring 40 goals (3rd-most among Hawai’i players) through the season while posting three hat tricks. Most matches, fans could count on Wedderburn scoring at least once as she put the ball in the back of the net in 21 of those 27 contests. 

That success has parlayed itself into an even better junior season for the South Africa native, already up to 27 goals scored in just 16 matches, including four hat-tricks in some of the Rainbow Wahine’s biggest outings of the season. Following her outstanding performance against USC back on March 16, when the junior utility recorded her third hat-trick of the season to help deliver Hawai’i to a two-game winning streak against the University of Southern California for just the fifth win in program history against the Trojans and first home victory in 21 meetings in Honolulu, Wedderburn was named the Big West Water Polo player of the week for the first time in her career. 

The junior was the record-breaking fifth Rainbow Wahine player this season to be honored, snapping the previous record of four, coming back in the 2013 season. Wedderburn joins Bia Mantellato Dias, Bernadette Doyle, Lucia Gomez de la Puente and Daisy Logtens as Hawai’i players to receive the honor this season. 

Despite the first selection of her career by the conference, the bigger accomplishment in the mind of Wedderburn was helping deliver the Rainbow Wahine’s first two-game winning streak over USC ever, snapping a 27-game losing streak against the West Coast powerhouse in the process. 

“It was insane,” she recalled. “I think we just really got the ball rolling really well in the beginning of the season, obviously with a couple big wins against Stanford, USC and some close games against UCLA as well. It’s just getting that confidence that you do belong up there with the best teams, you know?” 

Once was cool, but twice? 

“Just to [beat USC] again, it kind of just solidified to us that we do have a real good chance of going pretty far this season and we are in reach of our goals. We just need to keep working hard and pushing hard and hopefully everything will work out for us,” she continued. 

The Rainbow Wahine were ranked 3rd in the nation, behind only UCLA and Cal, in the Collegiate Water Polo Association rankings released last Wednesday, March 20. New rankings are released each Wednesday by the committee. Hawai’i won both matches this past weekend, putting on a pair of dominant displays with a 20-4 win over Cal State Fullerton and a 12-4 victory over CSUN. 

Hawai’i returns to action on Friday, March 29 inside the Duke Kamehameha Aquatic Center, hosting UC San Diego with the match scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. HT.