After all the trauma that concluded the past Hawaii water polo season, Maureen Cole was still absolutely sure of one thing: After five years as Michel Roy’s assistant, she wanted to be the Rainbow Wahine coach.
Roy was let go after the collegiate careers of six seniors and All-American Monika Eggens ended at last year’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. UH hired Cole from a pool of 40 applicants three months later while she was forming the aquatics program at the new Kroc Center Hawaii. Her son, VanZandt, was not even a year old.
WAHINE WATER POLO
At Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex
» Who: No. 15 Hawaii (4-6, 0-2) vs. No. 2 Stanford (13-1, 1-0)
"It was a tough decision because that job meant no travel and more stability," Cole said. "But this is my dream. I’m living it right now. I love collegiate athletics. I think it’s the most fun level to coach.
"Coaching at this level was kind of a no-brainer in the end. You’ve got to go for it. If I’d passed on it now I never would have had the opportunity again. This is my home state. I’m never moving. I’m not going to leave for another coaching job at this point. My whole family is here. It’s the one job on the island and I got it, so I’m happy."
Twelve games into the season, Cole will coach her first home match Saturday when the 15th-ranked Wahine take on second-ranked Stanford at 6 p.m. They only have two more home matches — March 24 against No. 12 San Jose State and March 31 against top-ranked UCLA.
The strange schedule and a roster renovation are byproducts of the coaching change. Five players remain from last year. Cole and new assistant David Throop brought in 12 new faces and four just got here this semester. Throop had to jump in the pool a few times in the fall because there weren’t enough bodies.
The Wahine (5-7) are focused on finding their roles, and hoping it happens before the MPSF tournament next month. They have lost both league matches and share last place with SJSU and San Diego State, their next mainland opponent.
There is clearly talent — Hawaii was up two goals against UCLA a month ago — but consistency has been elusive. Losses to 12th-ranked Michigan and 17th-ranked Northridge sent UH tumbling in the rankings
The goal, said Cole, is to be good at the end of the season. "We can play up, but we can play down," she said. "With our group, we need to find out who can step up and who will be the leader when times are hard. It’s a young team and has got a lot to learn still."
Amarens Genee, a junior from the Netherlands, is fifth in MPSF scoring, averaging two goals a game. More impressive, her shooting percentage is .444 and she has drawn more than half (45) of Hawaii’s 87 kickouts, where a player draws a penalty that removes an opponent from the pool for a certain amount of time.
"She works her butt off whether the refs reward her with the kickout or not," Cole said. "She’s just going to put her head down and work and work. She never complains or makes excuses. She just keeps working and she’s very talented."
Emily Scott, a sophomore from Australia, was the league’s newcomer of the week after opening her career with an eight-goal weekend. Goalie Serena Reid is seventh in saves (7.79) and Danielle Lewis has 19 of the team’s 53 steals.
Almost any result this season will be a surprise. That won’t be true next season, when the Wahine move into the Big West.
"It’s not that we don’t have a chance in the MPSF," Cole said, "but hopefully we’ll be playing in the conference championship game every year in the Big West. That’s exciting. Having a more legitimate shot at it is good."
Hawaii’s fourth coach in its 13-year history has a remarkable aquatic background. Between brothers John and Kevin Flanagan, who coach Kamehameha Swim Club, and sisters "Mo" and Katie, the family won more than 10 high school swimming championships at Punahou. There were also a handful of NCAA titles in swimming and water polo, and an Olympic near-miss.
Cole was one of the final cuts for the 2004 U.S. water polo team. She has been coaching since. Throop, 40, has led the Coronado (Calif.) Aquatics Club since 2000, coached five state championship water polo teams at Coronado High School and was an Olympic development coach for seven years.
He is intrigued by the possibilities of working in Hawaii and for Cole. Throop said their teams will be more defense-oriented than in the past. Like his boss, he is trying to be patient and let this revamped team come together.
"We are going to improve," Throop said. "Wewant to play our best matches in April."