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Troubled water

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    Kalani’s Ann Yang passed to Kassy Dubois, who was being guarded by Kapolei’s Brooke Bosque in a game last Wednesday at the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center. Finding pools to practice in has been challenging for OIA programs. Kapolei, for instance, practices at Hope Chapel Kapolei.

The challenges faced by many of the girls competing in Oahu Interscholastic Association water polo go far beyond swimming, shooting and defending in the pool.

There are 16 teams in OIA girls water polo this season, and most have to deal with situations not encountered by other sports teams at their respective schools.

Among the challenges faced by players and coaches are:

» having players who never competed in water polo prior to high school;

» 13 of the 16 schools not having on-campus pools in which to practice;

» practicing at night because their pools are used by others during the afternoon;

» struggling to find enough players to field a team.

"We all know each other’s pains," Castle coach Kevin Driscoll said. "We try to give each other any help we can, especially new coaches. There is respect between each other."

New to water polo

Athletes in other sports usually start when they’re 8 years old or younger.

That’s not the case for OIA girls water polo, where a majority of the 16 teams do not have any players with experience in the sport prior to high school.

"For water polo it’s very difficult because unlike other sports we don’t have developmental leagues," Leilehua coach Nathan Higa said. "Soccer has AYSO, baseball has Little League, football has Pop Warner and basketball has PAL. For us, there is no place to learn water polo until you come to high school."

For those who aren’t proficient at swimming when they join, coaches need to teach proper swimming/treading techniques, the skills used in water polo and the game’s rules.

"It’s very difficult. It’s time consuming both mentally and physically for the girls," Farrington coach Eric Polivka said. "It’s very difficult to comprehend the nuances of the game."

McKinley junior Tawny Stockinger is one of the many OIA players new to the game.

"Learning a sport has been a good experience so far," she said. "I’m just trying to learn the skills and work hard and just push harder for myself."

Leilehua senior Jackie Agbayani-Kupa, fresh off wrestling season, started playing water polo two weeks ago.

"I have used muscles that I’ve never used before," she said. "I’m sore after every practice and I get really tired. But in a few weeks I should get used to it."

Few home pools

The Kalani, Kaiser and Roosevelt girls water polo teams are the only ones in the OIA with the "luxury" of having on-campus pools. Kaimuki has a pool, but isn’t fielding a squad this season.

The schools without pools are Aiea, Campbell, Castle, Farrington, Kahuku, Kailua, Kalaheo, Kapolei, Leilehua, McKinley, Mililani, Moanalua and Pearl City.

Among the practice sites for these schools are parks, a church and a college campus.

Leilehua has to travel 8.6 miles from its campus to Central Oahu Regional Park — the greatest distance between a school and its practice site.

The entire Farrington team catches the city bus from campus to Laniakea YWCA in downtown Honolulu, which is 3.1 miles away.

"It’s really hard because we have to get down there catching the bus and then when they’re done with practice they have to catch the bus back to where they have to be — school or home," Polivka said. "It’s a long day for the girls, and they also have to get on and off the bus with all their gear."

Castle, Kailua and Kalaheo practice at Kaneohe District Park pool from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

On Mondays and Thursdays, Castle and Kalaheo practice together. On Tuesdays and Fridays, Castle and Kailua share the pool.

"We try to work around one another," Kalaheo coach Paula Scott said. "We split half the pool."

It’s inconvenient when one team wants to run full-court drills and the other has to move aside, but pool sharing does allow for the teams to scrimmage each other. They also can split the costs of using the pool.

"It’s been a blessing in disguise," Driscoll said. "Scrimmaging really helps out each team. They can become game savvy."

Leilehua, Mililani and Pearl City practice at CORP’s pool. On most practice days, Leilehua and Pearl City, which have smaller teams, share the pool from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Mililani, which has 21 players, practices from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

"It is difficult because it restricts what we can do as far as conditioning," Higa said. "We split the pool in half, so if we want to do conditioning we have to swim the width of the pool, which isn’t very challenging."

Campbell and Kapolei both practice at Hope Chapel Kapolei, with a 1-hour overlap. Campbell goes from 3 to 5 p.m., while Kapolei practices from 4 to 6 p.m.

"They probably get home at 9 p.m., and then they’d have to start their homework with tired brains," Driscoll said of his Castle players. "I tell them to take care of it during the day."

Low on numbers

The most logical place for coaches to get water polo players is from the swimming team, but some schools don’t have much to draw from.

Farrington had the bare minimum seven water polo players last season. This year, Polivka said he has 10. McKinley has 10 players this season, according to coach Daniel Quindica.

"At McKinley it’s been kind of difficult to get the numbers, but I’m just trying to stay optimistic and every year hopefully we can add one more girl," Quindica said.

The elite team

Kahuku has been the class of OIA girls water polo, winning eight of nine league championships. The Red Raiders also have three runner-up and three third-place finishes in the seven-year history of the state tournament.

There was enough interest in water polo that Kahuku has had an intermediate level program and another for ages 12 and under during the summer.

"We just found that in our community a lot of athletes are surfers, so we thought it was natural for them (to play water polo)," Kahuku coach Makana Leiataua said. "We want to ground them into a sport so they can focus on it sooner."

Catching on quick

Mililani senior Erin Lee said she swam for five years with the Hawaii Swimming Club, starting at age 8.

She decided to try water polo in her sophomore year.

"For me swimming was getting a little bland, so then I started water polo and then I got into it because it is a team sport and it’s very competitive and aggressive, and I liked it," she said.

Lee, who also honed her skills at water polo camps at the University of Hawaii, is a member of the Olympic Development Program. She played in ODP tournaments in Clovis, Calif., last year, and Long Beach, Calif., this year.

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