KS-Kapālama downs Punahou in overtime to clinch historic state title repeat

KS-Kapālama downs Punahou in overtime to clinch historic state title repeat

KS-Kapālama downs Punahou in overtime to clinch historic state title repeat

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 11, 2024

HONOLULU – The new queens of the pool? Dynasty of Warriors? 

No matter how you slice it, the Kamehameha-Kapālama Warriors made history Saturday night as the defending state champions downed Punahou in overtime of the HHSAA girls’ water polo state championship match, 9-8. With the win, KS-Kapālama became just the second program to ever win back-to-back state championships in girls’ water polo – joining the Punahou Buff n’ Blue, who had won 13 consecutive state crowns before the Warriors knocked them off in 2023. 

It was the fourth overtime match between the two ILH powerhouses this season and sixth meeting overall. For fans who had paid close attention, it was a near-expectation entering the night that the game may need extra time once again. 

The defending champion Warriors used an aggressive start to open the game, winning the opening sprint and earning a 5-meter penalty shot that skirted wide to begin the evening’s proceedings. KSK’s aggression finally paid off as Laikukamahina Wong found the back of the net for KSK just under 90 seconds into the action. 

KS-Kapālama’s defense would hold strong, turning away a few close opportunities for Punahou to keep the Buff n’ Blue scoreless through the opening 7-minute frame and helped the Warriors take a 2-0 lead into the 2nd quarter after Ava Gurney snuck in a goal with 26 seconds left in the opening stanza. 

Punahou began to wake up in the 2nd quarter, winning the opening sprint but not scoring with the early advantage. KS-Kapālama continued to play quickly with counter attacks, fast breaking down the pool following a stop and drawing a 5-meter penalty try once again. This time, Gurney finished the play and delivered a 3-0 lead to the Warriors with 6:14 left in the 1st half. 

It was Punahou leading scorer Synnove Robinson that finally got the Buff ‘n Blue out of the scoring funk with her first goal of the night just 24 seconds after Gurney’s penalty finish to make it a 3-1 deficit. The Buff ‘n Blue would cut the Warriors’ lead in half just over a minute later with a 5-meter penalty shot of their own, watching along as Ava Aguilera calmly deposited the second goal of the night for Punahou. 

The Buff ‘n Blue offensive onslaught continued 70 seconds later as Kailoa Kerber got into the scoring fun, punching in a goal with 3:22 left in the 2nd quarter and sending the match into halftime all tied at 3-3. 

Punahou’s powerful momentum shift did not stop with the midway break, either. Hope McCarren scored the fourth consecutive goal for the Buff ‘n Blue after the visitors fell down 3-0 to open the contest, giving Punahou its first lead of the night with 4:23 left in the 3rd quarter.  

Following a timeout, the KS-Kapālama squad settled back into their comfort zone and tied the game at 4-4 with Wong’s second goal of the night with 1:25 remaining in the frame. It looked like the Warriors had stolen back the momentum until Kerber snuck in a goal with three seconds left before the final quarter to send Punahou into the 4th leading by one, 5-4. 

After the Warriors’ offense had been stymied for the first four minutes of the final frame, Tea Brandon brought back the Kamehameha-Kapālama team once again with a game-tying score with 2:40 left in regulation. Punahou star Synnove Robinson nearly clinched the title for the Buff ‘n Blue with back-to-back scores within a minute of each other, giving a 7-5 lead to the longtime dynasty program that was searching for the top once again. 

With 97 ticks left to save their season, Kamehameha-Kapālama called timeout to re-group. The break in the action was all the defending champions needed to lock back in on the ultimate goal. 

Again, Brandon delivered a quick-strike goal with 1:23 left to play and cut the Punahou lead to one score. Needing one stop, the Warriors suffocated the Buff ‘n Blue offense and countered for a critical possession. With 37 seconds left in regulation, Isabella Wailele Kapali bounced one into the back of the net to tie the game at 7-all and re-ignite the hometown Warriors crowd as the match went to overtime. 

With two 3-minute periods to be played with no golden goal sudden-death ending in play, both teams took turns with cautious attacks throughout the opening overtime. After trading stops, KS-Kapālama’s Wong delivered on her third and biggest goal of the night to give the Warriors an 8-7 lead heading into the 2nd overtime frame. 

Punahou star Synnove Robinson one-upped Wong’s hat trick by scoring her fourth goal of the night on a 5-meter penalty shot just 18 seconds into the 2nd overtime period, tying the match once again. 

Tea Brandon erased the memory of that 46 seconds later, scoring the decisive ninth goal for Kamehameha-Kapālama with 1:56 left in overtime to take a 9-8 lead as Brandon completed a hat trick of her own. The Warriors drained the clock with the few remaining possessions they had, shutting down the Punahou offense to clinch the improbable comeback and become the second program in HHSAA history to win back-to-back girls’ water polo championships. 

“To repeat is just such an awesome feeling. All the credit goes to the girls, they did an awesome job tonight,” KS-Kapālama head coach Anthony Cabrera said following the win. “Only one other team has [repeated] in the history of girls’ water polo in the state of Hawai’i, and we look up to that program.” 

It is the Warriors’ second title under Cabrera and third in program history. For a team that had struggled to finish the job at the top until last season, Kamehameha-Kapālama has figured out the way to win in big moments and is not looking to stop anytime soon. 

“It feels really amazing, I was really hoping we would get the two-peat this year and we did,” KS-Kapālama’s Laikukamahina Wong said following her hat trick in the team’s state title win. “Now we can go home saying we may be the new queens of water polo in town.” 

 

Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN