Splash into summer

Water polo league aims to get Maui players more competitive time in the pool

Westside’s Alicia Wintermeyer, a Lahainaluna High School graduate who plays collegiately at Concordia University Irvine, lines up a shot during a game against Waiside on Wednesday at Kihei Aquatic Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KIHEI — A middle school, a high school and a college water polo player were all on the same team Wednesday night at Kihei Aquatic Center, working together.

It is a welcome sight for Shawn and Cathy Donohue.

With the goal of helping to grow the sport on the Valley Isle, the couple has created a water polo summer league, giving players a chance to advance their skills beyond just the Maui Interscholastic League season.

“The girls don’t get enough games from the MIL and it’s tough over at states,” said Shawn Donohue, the program director of Island Aquatics who is also the coach of the three-time defending MIL champion girls water polo team at Baldwin High School. “We have had to travel every year to the mainland every summer to get more games in. It’s hard fundraising that much money. … I thought maybe if we get enough girls interested, then maybe we can throw some teams together.

“Helping these girls get into college and finding a place to play, that’s really important to me,” he added. “I love that about what we’re doing here. It’s, like, really important to me because these Maui student-athletes can be given a chance to go play somewhere.”

Westside’s Taryn Sato (left) and Waiside’s Keanna Campbell, teammates on Baldwin’s MIL championship team this spring, compete for a first-quarter ball.

The league consists of four coed teams: Westside, Southside, Waiside and Upcountry. All participants were put into a draft at the start of the season and then evenly distributed.

“These girls only play against each other for the couple months of the (regular) season,” he said Wednesday night between games. “By mixing them up, I wanted to get them to the point where they can learn with each other and learn more about the game and have more of that camaraderie for the island, and hopefully in the future, because it’s usually always the Baldwin girls that travel, we’ll have all the teams that will want to travel.”

Since it’s a volunteer-based program, Donohue also coaches and officiates during the games, with Dave Wintermeyer keeping score. On occasion, King Kekaulike coach Ryan Lehman and Kamehameha Maui coach Chris Calvert volunteer as well.

The summer water polo league also receives support from Duke Sevilla and Fran Yamamoto of the Maui County Aquatics Division, Donohue said.

Rather than having coaches, each team is “self-directed” with an appointed captain, who is usually one of the more experienced players. The teams meet Monday nights to learn the basics of water polo and to practice.

Westside’s Jenna Suzuki charges a first-quarter ball in front of Waiside’s Keely Ah Loo on Wednesday.

“We really want them to be prepared when they get into high school,” said Cathy Donohue, a USA water polo registered coach and operations leader at Island Aquatics. “We are so, so happy that the other schools decided to join us this summer and play with us. It’s been so fun.”

The league also gives the incoming high school freshman a chance to get to know their future teammates, as well as future competitors, she said.

“We’ll have, like, a King K girl and Seabury girl on the same team,” she said. “We have a few girls entering high school this fall, too, so it’s great they all get to play together.”

The Donohues hope to grow the league enough to make youth divisions, and have male and female teams. They also said that the goal is to formulate teams based on where the players live rather than creating a draft.

Games are played on Wednesday nights at the Kihei Aquatic Center at 6:30 and 7:30 p.m., and will run until the championship game on July 17.

Recent Baldwin graduate Taryn Sato, who plays for the league-leading Westside team, will be attending and competing for California Lutheran University in the fall. In the meantime, she has enjoyed playing in the water polo summer league and “is excited to see what’s to come” with the program.

“Ever since coach Shawn came, I felt like every year he has taken a step further to develop the program, not just Baldwin, but the whole MIL and I think that’s super great,” Sato said. “I think it’s great that we get to mix and meet other teams and learn from them … and the younger kids that are on our team, we can help them in the water and there’s nothing better than in-water experience.”

Baldwin rising sophomore Keanna Campbell, who plays for Waiside, agreed.

“We’re just all getting better together so we can be better at states,” Campbell said. “I feel like most girls start water polo after high school, so now they have the opportunity to do it at any age. They will really get better. Water polo will be more popular now.”