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. 

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.