Hurricanes’ Polo Girls Meet All-star Kahuku Team March 11

There currently are 17 girls water polo teams in the OIA, and 16 of them will begin their 2015 season with the same mindset: Catch Kahuku.

The Red Raiders have won 11 of 12 OIA titles since the sport was sanctioned in 2004 and look poised for another solid run, to hear Kapolei head coach Dex Lee tell it.

“Kahuku is the gem — they’re as good as they’ve ever been,” said Lee. “You never know what can happen on any day, but I think they’ll give the ILH a run (in the state tournament). Second place is wide open.”

Among the OIA teams positioned to unseat Kahuku are Lee’s Hurricanes.

Kapolei went 9-2 last year against OIA competition (they finished third in the league’s postseason tourney) on their way to another state tournament appearance. Indeed, Kapolei has qualified for states every year since 2004.

Kapolei won’t have to wait long to play Kahuku, as it will be its first league opponent March 11 at Central Oahu Regional Park.

Lee’s team is a mix of veterans and newcomers. It opened preseason camp with just nine players before upperclassmen began to recruit additional members.

“We beefed up our roster because of a couple of our kids who really went out and recruited,” Lee added. “We have 22 on the roster, and we’ve never had more than 15 before. We have some gems (among the newcomers). If they can pick up the swimming part, they’ll be good.”

In seniors Tiala Wendt, Leilani Herrera and Corilynn Higa, Kapolei will have three of the league’s top players in its lineup.

“We have a good corps with our seniors. They’ve all swum, they’re all fast, and they’re smart,” he explained. “We anticipate a good season. These seniors are more together than any group we’ve had. Usually they get together and then get close (as the season goes along).

“This group is starting at a much better point. We just have to get our reserves up to speed now.”

Wendt was a First Team All-Conference pick last season and is a four-year starter for Kapolei. “She’s definitely our team leader. She has quick hands and a good arm, and she’s also our best field player.”

With that in mind, Lee has been working to develop Herrera’s keeping skills as a way of also getting Wendt out of post.

“Leilani has some of the same attributes as Tiala. She has quick hands and a strong arm, and she’s pretty much fearless. The difference between the two right now is that Tiala knows the system and can direct people.”

Herrera won the 100-meter backstroke at the state swimming and diving championships in February and is one of nine players on the roster who also was on the swim team. “Leilani’s shot is on point,” Lee noted.

Higa also is a four-year swimmer and water polo player for Kapolei, and will play at gunner position this season.

“She brings a quick shot,” Lee said. “She’s a real accurate passer and shooter.”

Lee also is expecting sophomore Mailani Wendt to boost the offense.

The younger sister of Tiala, Mailani claimed an OIA individual title in the 100-meter freestyle in January and will play a drive position for Kapolei.

“She’s our speed,” Lee added.

In addition to the Kahuku opening, the first round of the Hurricanes’ OIA slate also includes games with Roosevelt March 14 at Barbers Point, Aiea March 18 at CORP, Kalani March 21, Waipahu March 28, Kailua April 1, and Moanalua April 4 — all four at Barbers Point.