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Water polo players hit the beach

Ocean scrimmages bring some fun, joy to players disappointed by season’s cancellation due to virus

Water polo players take to the waters off Kamaole I Beach Park in Kihei on Saturday. The weekly practices and scrimmages are run for free by former Baldwin High School coach Shawn Donohue and his son Maverick. “Ocean water polo is actually becoming quite popular around the world. We’re hoping Maui can end up being a destination for a tournament,” says Shawn Donohue. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photos

KIHEI — Jacsen Donohue’s senior water polo season for Baldwin High School was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the California Lutheran University recruit has recently found a way to stay in shape playing the game.

Shawn Donohue, Jacsen’s dad and former Baldwin coach, set up a weekly practice and scrimmage plan last month that takes place on Saturday mornings at Kamaole I Beach Park in Kihei. Players from all six Maui Interscholastic League schools have taken part.

The MIL season was halted after just one day of play in March, and the Maui County pools were closed soon afterwards.

“At first I was disappointed because I lost my senior season, but I just look forward to being able to go to college and have a new experience,” Jacsen Donohue said after helping pump up the inflatable goals on Saturday morning.

Donohue, the 2019 MIL Player of the Year, smiled when asked about the ocean program that is run for free by her father and brother Maverick, a recent graduate of Concordia University-Irvine.

Audrey Reiss (from left) and coach Maverick Donohue check the level of air in an inflatable goal as Jacsen Donohue pumps it up and Keanna Campbell looks on.

“Despite living here for a long time, I’ve never played water polo in the ocean before,” Jacsen Donohue said. “And it’s actually a lot more fun.”

She said that the opportunity to share the camaraderie of the game in the Pacific Ocean has made the loss of the season more bearable.

“I definitely haven’t seen people in a while because of the physical distancing and stuff, it’s just good to be able to get back to the sport we love with everyone,” she said. “It’s always been a dream (to play in the ocean) and now it’s just really fun.”

Shawn Donohue said the idea came to mind quickly after the shutdown of the MIL season.

“We have a lot of young athletes, student-athletes in the county of Maui that still need to practice their skills so they’ll be ready to compete, whether it’s at the college level, the high school level, the club level or wherever they want to continue playing water polo,” he said.

Shaden Flores, a rising senior at Lahainaluna High School, rises to shoot the ball on Saturday.

The inflatable goals are made of heavy duty rubber and regulation size — two head weights are used to anchor them in place. A recent video that Shawn Donohue shot of the competition had more than 3,000 views after being posted on Twitter and picked up by a local TV station.

Donohue has big ideas for the sport that has clearly become popular among local competitors.

“Ocean water polo is actually becoming quite popular around the world,” he said as he looked out over glassy conditions in South Maui on Saturday morning. “We’re hoping Maui can end up being a destination for a tournament. I mean, look at this — you could set up multiple courses, it’s a beautiful place to come and play polo with healthy, strong athletes that don’t spread disease.”

Donohue sits on a boogie board to referee the scrimmages and former Baldwin head swim coach Leighton Hao has jumped in to play goalkeeper, to help the scrimmages go smoothly.

Ceci Buckingham, a recent King Kekaulike graduate, is thinking about walking on to the women’s water polo team at Chapman University in Orange County, Calif.

“I’m so happy Coach Shawn is doing this — it was such a bummer having our season canceled but this is a lot of fun for summer,” Buckingham said. “I tried to stay in shape all quarantine and this is fun because it proves that it kind of worked.

“I was so bummed, I was crying, but now this has definitely helped. It made me happy to be able to play polo again.”

Kate Hehemann, also a recent King Kekaulike graduate, made her first trip to the workout on Saturday with her friend Buckingham.

“This is my first time coming,” Hehemann said. “I’m excited because I haven’t played in a while or done any exercise in a while, so I’m excited to get out there and have fun.”

Hehemann is set to go to the University of Arizona this fall and may try to play for the school’s high-level club team.

“They have a club team and they play against some bigger schools, like Arizona State, they play against some of the UCs and it’s really fun,” Hehemann said. “They seem to have a good time, they get to travel, so I’m hoping I can. It’s a club team, so you basically just sign up, but there’s a little bit of requirements to travel. If I can, I will.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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