Resilient LHS water polo team wins MIL crown
LAHAINA – It has been a storybook season for the Lahainaluna High School water polo team.
The Lady Lunas began the season with three losses in the first part of the Maui Interscholastic League regular schedule, and things looked bleak for the defending champion Red Tide coached by Bradley Mason, now into his third season at the helm of the program.
Even as two-time all-star Lalelei Mata’afa returned after winning her third consecutive state wrestling title to help Lahainaluna win its first state championship, the team struggled and dropped a key first-round match to Baldwin.
But the Lady Lunas proved to be a resilient group. They found their groove, developed a tight team chemistry and won out over the last ten matches of the season, including a stirring overtime victory over the Lady Bears in the overall MIL championship contest (after Lahainaluna had smoked Baldwin in the post-season tournament final).
That overall title win will remain in the annals of golden Luna championship moments, as Lady Lalelei scored not one, but two length-of-the-pool goals, with the second shot tying the match as the buzzer sounded to end regulation.
Lahainaluna will now advance to the state tournament in Honolulu at the U.H. Manoa Pool on May 6-9.
“We hope to get a second or third seed at states, and I think we have a good shot at doing well over there,” said Coach Mason, who is assisted by Zach Johnson and Courtney Galarita this year.
“We found a new energy in practice before the MIL tournament, and we made the turn as a speed and finesse team to excel at a higher level. Those were statement match-ups against Baldwin, and we’ve learned that the harder the battle is, the sweeter the victory.”
Leading the way for the Lady Lunas were senior co-captains Addie Johnson and Kaile Stockham, along with juniors Mata’afa and Haleigh Berko, and sophomores Julia Bianco, Alicia Wintermeyer and Sydney Wagner.
Rounding out the roster are senior Noemi Granados, junior Haley Pante and first-year players Nikki Zamani, Lora Claydon and Eva Olson.
“Much of the success that Lahainaluna water polo has had over the years is due to the swimming ability they develop with the youth and high school swim teams. Coaches Tom (Popdan) and Jen (Wiseman) are terrific at developing the speed, strength and athletic ability that transfers over to success in water polo. Most of our team are swimmers for Lahainaluna, and Coach Tom has been a coaching mentor for me,” added Mason.
“I just send my gratitude out to all who take care of the Lahaina Aquatic Center, as it is, and always has been, a great facility; the girls on the team; the parents; the coaches; the trainers; A.D. Scott Soldwisch; and the Luna community for their support to help us to success as a team.”