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Maui water polo trio ready to kick off season at Cal Lutheran

Donohue, Johnson, Sato continue to raise Valley Isle’s profile in the sport

Jacsen Donohue of Baldwin High School shoots during an MIL game on March 12, 2020. Donohue and fellow Mauians Aryana Johnson and Taryn Sato are on the California Lutheran University women’s water polo team, which opens its season Saturday against Redlands. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Jacsen Donohue will play in an official water polo match on Saturday, her first contest that has counted in over a year.

She will be joined by fellow Mauians Taryn Sato and Aryana Johnson when their California Lutheran University women’s team takes on Redlands.

Donohue, The Maui News Maui Interscholastic League Player of the Year for Baldwin High School in 2019 as a junior, can’t wait.

“I mean, just especially after my senior season being canceled and just getting back into the pool with a really great team, I was just excited to have practice,” Donohue said via phone on Wednesday. “And finding out we even have games was extraordinary. I just can’t wait to play at a level that I haven’t been able to experience yet.”

The Cal Lutheran team wasn’t notified that there would be games until mid-February — Saturday starts a six-match regular season that ends on May 1.

Donohue

“It was maybe a few weeks into practicing without coaches because we still weren’t cleared to have real practices,” Donohue said. “Once they got on deck they were just telling us how they’ve been working really hard just to find teams that will even play.

“Once they told us, I was like, ‘Oh, it’s time to get training.’ “

CLU coach Craig Rond is happy to have the Maui trio.

“It’s fantastic,” he said on Wednesday. “I have always been such a fan of Hawaiian water polo and I tried for so long to get the kids from the islands to come over. We had a really good one from Punahou several years ago … and then we had a couple Kamehameha kids. … But I’ve tried for a long time to get some of the kids from Maui and I finally got Taryn Sato and she was just awesome last year.

“She is such a team player, she will literally do anything we need her to do for our program and that included helping us recruit Jacsen and Aryana.”

Johnson

Donohue scored three times in her last match for Baldwin, a 12-8 win over Seabury Hall on the opening day of MIL play on March 12, 2020, just days before COVID-19 concerns shut down sports in the state.

“I’ve been doing some ocean scrimmages, but that doesn’t really compare to playing for a really well-ranked (NCAA) D-III school with an amazing team,” she said. “I guess we had maybe some preseason games my senior year, real water polo games, but since then I’ve been doing a lot of swim practices and a scrimmage here and there if we can throw it in.”

Donohue admits that “after such a long layoff I’m a little anxious about it, but with the support from the coaches and such a supportive team, it will be good no matter what. I’m just looking to get out there, have fun and gain experience.”

Donohue is grateful to have two familiar faces on the team — Sato is a sophomore from Baldwin and Johnson is a freshman from Seabury Hall.

“With everything going on and not being able to socialize much outside of practice, it’s really nice to see familiar faces and to know that even if you’re not quite comfortable with the new people you’re meeting, you always have someone to fall back on,” Donohue said.

Sato

Sato stepped in to play goalkeeper last season after the returning starter was injured before the season. In a position she had not played since she was a Baldwin freshman, Sato started eight times in net and recorded 48 saves last season.

She is happy to be back in the middle of the action as a field player, teaming with two other Valley Islanders on the offensive side of the CLU attack.

“This team was already great coming into my freshman year,” Sato said. “It really did feel like a big family dynamic. So, it’s great to see Jacsen and Aryana here as well, it really just feels like you’re bringing that aloha spirit back to California.

“It’s really good to see familiar faces. We also see familiar faces on other teams in this conference as well.”

All three Mauians are proud of the rising respect level for MIL alumni in the sport. The only two Hawaii natives on the University of Hawaii roster are from the Valley Isle: Baldwin graduate Rebecca Buenrostro-Gallimore and Lahainaluna graduate Lalelei Mata’afa.

Taryn Sato shoots for Baldwin during an MIL game on April 20, 2019. During her freshman season at Cal Lutheran last year, Sato stepped in to play goalkeeper and recorded 48 saves over 35 quarters. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“It’s just great to see us move up,” Sato said. “I feel like we do have a lot of talent prior and Lale was probably the first to go up there and then Rebecca followed. I know our high school goalie Kiara Espeleta went to Concordia, so it’s just cool to see familiar names and familiar faces representing the MIL in the collegiate realm.”

Johnson is the first Seabury Hall water polo player to play the sport in college.

“It’s definitely a completely different level from Seabury Hall water polo,” Johnson said. “It’s such a privilege to be able to continue to play. … When I was still playing (at Seabury Hall) and Taryn went here, I was looking at Taryn, like, ‘Oh, OK, girls from Maui can actually go (to college water polo). Girls should be paying attention, it doesn’t matter where you come from.”

Johnson knows she is carrying a responsibility to carve a pathway for her alma mater in the sport.

“I know there’s a lot of girls watching me and I know my old coach is watching me,” Johnson said. “I just feel really honored and I kind of have this responsibility to do well.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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