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The Hawaiian water polo team was eliminated in the NCAA semifinals by Cal

The Hawaii water polo team had plenty of chances in its NCAA semifinal against California at the Golden Bears' Spieker Aquatics Complex on Saturday.

However, the Rainbow Wahine, seeking the largest win in program history, fell short with a 9-6 loss that marked the end of their breakthrough 2024 season.


What you need to know

  • The Hawaii water polo team's 2024 season ended Saturday in the NCAA semifinals with a 9-6 loss to Cal at the Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley, California
  • Second-seeded UH fell behind by five at halftime due to a disastrous second quarter, but held the Bears to within one score in the second half to give themselves a chance
  • The Rainbow Wahine were just 2 of 17 in power play situations as they repeatedly missed shots on rushed or contested shots
  • Thirteen-year head coach Maureen Cole will retire in the offseason to make room for assistant coach James Robinson

It was the final game for 13-year head coach Maureen Cole, who announced her retirement before the season to spend more time with her family. Her assistant coach, James Robinson, will take over the program this summer.

“Aside from the game, I’m just really proud of the Wahine team this year, this season,” a tearful Cole said via a Zoom call afterward. “This game in particular didn't go the way we wanted, but they fought until the end and that's just a testament to the people they are. A great group of girls, a group I want to spend the last nine months with, and I'm really proud of their efforts.

Big West champion UH (23-4), which posted two wins over No. 1 teams in the regular season and lost 1-1 to Cal, earned plenty of power-play opportunities but struggled to convert them to use. In man-up situations it was only 2:17. Cal was 4 of 8 in those situations.

“The power play pretty much says it all,” said Cole, who noted that her group was “a little confused” and had trouble knowing when to step in and shoot. She added that an unusual pattern of exclusions among some of her key players led to her switching to a mixed group of players in the pool for the first half.

Ultimately, it came down to not taking advantage of the team's many power plays, she admitted.

“We weren’t able to put the ball away particularly well today. They did that. So Cal deserves credit for that,” she said. “I wish this could have happened on another day, but I’m proud of the team.”

The Wahine trailed 2-1 after one quarter, but a series of defensive errors led to a disastrous second quarter in which Cal scored six goals to take an 8-3 lead into the break.

“That second quarter was a killer,” Cole said.

UH held Cal (19-6) of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation to just one goal in the second half on its home team, giving itself a chance at a comeback.

Bernadette Doyle's third goal of the game, a shot at the far post from the right wing, put UH up 9-6 with 4:27 left.

Big West Player of the Year Bia Mantellato Dias had a great chance to get UH within two minutes, but missed a penalty shot just wide with 3:47 left.

Doyle's lob goal was disallowed with 2:46 minutes remaining as the whistle blew first. The subsequent shot from Lot Stertefeld – actually a must at this point – bounced off the crossbar.

Doyle said she was able to tune out Cal's raucous home crowd and noted that some UH fans were in attendance.

“I'm so glad I was able to be coached by Mo and James again,” said Doyle, who returned for her senior season after years away from the New Zealand national team program. “We had a great year with the team and just tried to make Hawaii and the university proud. I guess we didn't make it in the end, but we fought until the end, so I think that just shows our strength as a team this year.

UH was attempting to reach the first NCAA final in program history. Instead, Cal will face UCLA (25-0), which defeated Stanford 10-8 in the first semifinal on Saturday, in the Bears' first final since 2011.

Cole, a Punahou and UCLA graduate, leaves the program as the winningest and winningest coach in program history.

“I think Coach Robinson is the best there is,” Cole said of the program’s future. “I think Hawaii is in phenomenal hands and that’s why I can walk away with complete peace of mind.”

Brian McInnis covers the state's sports scene for Spectrum News Hawaii. He can be reached at brian.mcinnis@charter.com.

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