KEAAU – For nearly three quarters it was nip and tuck between Hawaii Prep and Kealakehe, with neither water polo team having much room to navigate at Naeole Pool.
Except when HPA’s Jackie Payne received the ball, then the waters seemed to part. There were no exceptions to be made for Ka Makani’s defense – just 28 minutes of relentless effort.
That made the offensive bar easier to clear Thursday, and Payne and Chloe Hughes each scored twice as HPA pulled away for a 7-3 victory to advance to the BIIF championship match opposite Kamehameha.
“I think defense is where it starts. We can’t score points until we shut down their offense,” said Payne, who spent much of the match clogging passing lanes, denying shots and beating opponents to loose balls.
Her first goal came on a breakaway, and on partial breakaway late in the third quarter, she drew a foul and put home the go-ahead goal on a five-meter penalty shot.
“I am more of a defensive player, I’m usually the one making the steals, so when I have the opening when someone makes the steal, I just try and high-tail it and I was lucky.
“I try not to think about (scoring) the goal. Do a little fake and get it in a clean spot.”
And now Ka Makani (11-2), who never trailed, can think big.
After a one-year absence, HPA returns to the HHSAA tournament, and it will make the well-known trek back to Keaau to take on undefeated Kamehameha (13-0) at 10 a.m Saturday in the final. In the earlier semifinal Thursday, the Warriors scored the first nine goals of the first quarter and bounced Waiakea 16-2, getting five scores from Nani Spaar, four from Ocean Akau and hat tricks by Emma Kanoa and Aubrey Carter.
Kamehameha has yet to be challenged this season, including in 20-7 and 16-5 wins against HPA.
“They are quick moving the ball, so we’ve got to keep awareness on our defense so we can move with them on the counterattack,” HPA coach Greg McKenna said. “If we can keep the score low, than it will be a contest.”
The goalkeepers, HPA’s Ala Taylor and the Waveriders’ Keakoa Pintor, each flashed.
Ka Makani have come to expect such efforts from Taylor, but Pintor was filling in for an injured teammate. Pintor has only been playing in goal for a few weeks, but she looked like a veteran when she made consecutive stabs to redirect shots from point-blank range to keep the deficit 2-1 heading to halftime.
She was credited with 11 saves.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her, she did great,” Kealakehe coach Chris Chang said.
Meiling Kam scored twice for the Waveriders (8-5), but even in those instances she had to earn it. Using nifty moves to get behind a defender, her second consecutive goal tied the match 3-3 with 1:41 remaining in the third quarter.
But HPA shut the door from there, tacking on goals in the fourth quarter by Hughes, Jenna Perry and Morgan Davis. Gabby Pike scored in the first half from a tough angle, answering a goal by the Waveriders’ Shyani Sensano.
“We just kept doing our thing, let a good defense eventually set up good offense,” McKenna said. “Even if it doesn’t work at the beginning, we’re not letting the score get away from us, we’re just kind of chipping away.
“By the fourth quarter, the defense was still on and letting things set up.”
The season was a grind for the Waveriders in that they lost their home pool at Kona Community Aquatic Center and had to hold many of their practices in Kailua Bay.
The pool closure also meant Hawaii Prep had to join Kealakehe in making an abundance of trips to Naeole Pool this season.
“I live in Kona, so I high-tail it every Saturday,” Payne said.
Ka Makani won’t mind one more trip.
“Oh yeah,” she said.