Kahuku’s ‘Well-oiled Ma­chine’ Ready For Girls Wa­ter Polo

MidWeek Islander (Windward Oahu) - - Windward Oahu Sports - By JACK DANILEWICZ

As a young as­sis­tant wa­ter polo coach at Kahuku in 2001, Aaron Waldrip helped build the pro­gram while work­ing be­side the leg­endary Aukai Fer­gu­son. Four­teen years later, it is Waldrip’s turn to be at the helm.

“I al­ways wanted to coach here again and get back to where I feel at home,” he said. “I walked into a re­ally well-oiled ma­chine, a pro­gram that al­ready is func­tion­ing well. That is eas­ier than start­ing from scratch.”

Waldrip has been part of the Oahu wa­ter polo com­mu­nity since he played at BYU-Hawaii. Af­ter his stint as Kahuku as­sis­tant, he was var­sity head coach at Mililani for three years, then went on to as­sist at UH-Manoa. He served last sea­son as an as­sis­tant coach to Makana Leiataua, who re­tired from Kahuku af­ter seven sea­sons. The team went 15-1 over­all last year, win­ning its fifth straight OIA ti­tle and tak­ing third in the state girls wa­ter polo cham­pi­onships. (Kahuku’s only loss was to Iolani in the state semi­fi­nals.)

The Red Raiders have won the OIA in all but one year since wa­ter polo be­came a sanc­tioned sport in 2004. In­deed, the only goal still un­met is a state cham­pi­onship, but it may not be much longer in com­ing, ac­cord­ing to Waldrip.

“This is prob­a­bly the most con­fi­dent I’ve ever been as a coach in a team’s abil­ity to win a state cham­pi­onship,” he said. “This is a phe­nom­e­nal group of kids, and ev­ery­one on our team has her eye on that goal. There isn’t a kid on this team who isn’t in­cred­i­ble. We have some fresh­men who are in­cred­i­ble and push­ing the se­niors (for play­ing time), which is great. I ap­pre­ci­ate the team’s at­ti­tude the most.”

Waldrip is build­ing his 2015 team around se­niors Lilli Lindgard and sis­ters Ka­hea and No­hea Ka­haule­lio. No­hea tal­lied 36 goals last sea­son and was named OIA’s Player of the Year. She also was the Player of the Year in 2013, af­ter help­ing lead Kahuku to a run­ner-up fin­ish at states.

Equally im­pres­sive was Ka­hea last spring, as she scored 39 goals of her own (in­clud­ing eight in the state tour­na­ment) to earn a spot along­side her sis­ter as a First Team OIA All-Star.

“The twins are just su­perb wa­ter polo play­ers,” Waldrip said. “They are highly skilled and very coach­able, which is a great com­bi­na­tion. And since they are twins, they are both ca­pa­ble of do­ing the same things, which is neat.”

Lindgard (15 goals in 2014) was named to the OIA’s Sec­ond Team last sea­son. “She’ll be one of the fastest girls in the OIA,” he said of Lindgard, who is a hole guard/driver for the team. “The three (Ka­hale­lio sis­ters and Lindgard) will all ar­guably be among the top three play­ers in the state.”

Waldrip also had high praise for se­nior Auri Kunz. “She prob­a­bly has the strong­est leg of any­one I’ve coached in high school,” he said.

Next up, Kahuku will play in the Iolani In­vi­ta­tional, which runs Wed­nes­daySatur­day. The Red Raiders’ bracket will in­clude ILH teams Iolani, Kame­hame­haKa­palama, Kamema­he­maHawaii and Pu­na­hou.

“This will be our first chance to see how we stack up. Phys­i­cally, we can match up with any­body, but any­thing can hap­pen on game day so, hope­fully, the girls will show up.”

Kahuku’s OIA opener is Satur­day ver­sus Kapolei.

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