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

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 Wednesday-Saturday. The Red Raiders’ bracket will include ILH teams Iolani, Kamehameha-Kapalama, Kamemahema-Hawaii 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.