The Hawaii water polo team’s Big West Conference title defense got off to a smooth start Saturday morning at the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex in taking down No. 12 Loyola Marymount 21-5 in the 2020 season opener.
“We’ve been practicing a really long time against ourselves, so it was really fun to play at home for our opening game and get off to a good start,” head coach Maureen Cole said of the season-opening win.
The loss of three leading scorers — including All-American Irene Gonzalez — didn’t seem to faze the No. 6 Rainbow Wahine (1-0), who scored more than 20 goals in a match for the first time in two years. Hawaii didn’t waste any shots in the offensive outburst, going 21-for-24, good for a .875 shooting percentage. Top returning scorer Alba Bonamusa Boix and redshirt junior Lalelei Mata’afa each scored four goals, headlining a list of nine Wahine that scored in the match. Seven of those scorers found the net more than once.
“We’re young, but we’re physical and really fast,” Cole said. “I think this team is really aggressive. It was fun to get everyone an opportunity. The counterattack was really strong today, and that was how we broke out. They’re just really excited. Fun to see them get to play.”
@WahineWP scores 20+ points for the first time since 2018 to take down No. 12 Loyola Marymount 21-5 in the 2020 season opener.
— Jonathan Chen (@jonchen50) January 18, 2020
Bonamusa Boix and Mata’afa were joined by junior Carmen Baringo, whose three goals capped off three Wahine hat tricks. Szonja Kuna, Samantha Malouff, Bernadette Doyle and Sophie Milliken each scored twice, with Emma van Rossum and Lucia Gomex de la Puenta each chipping in with a goal as well.
“It’s never individual. I wouldn’t have gotten the shots I’d gotten off if we didn’t work together as a team,” Mata’afa said. “They gave me those opportunities, and then it’s up to me in that individual moment to score. We all worked together great as a team today.”
On the defense end, sophomore Bridget Layburn and junior Molly Dilalla stood strong in goal, racking up a cumulative 10 saves while giving up just five goals. Layburn, who started the match, racked up six saves with a .750 save percentage in the first half. Dilalla followed up that effort with four more saves in the second half.
“Opening game of the season always comes with nerves, but I have a lot of confidence in our team. I knew that we were going to be great on defense. I have an awesome team in front of me,” Layburn said.
Despite losing the opening sprint of the season, the Rainbow Wahine didn’t leave those in attendance waiting long. Less than a minute into the match, the Wahine delivered the opening goal on a throw by Bonamusa Boix. A penalty 5-meter shot soon doubled UH’s advantage, before Mata’afa’s first goal made it three unanswered.
The early scoring proved to be foreshadowing for an explosive first half, as the Wahine opened up a double-digit 12-2 lead by the end of the half. The ‘Bows held Loyola Marymount scoreless throughout the second period. The rest of the match was easy sailing for Hawaii, as the Wahine more than doubled up on their scoring output with a 19-goal second-half eruption.
The Rainbow Wahine certainly fared much better against Loyola Marymount this time around. The team overcame the Lions in a 19-17 overtime affair in their previous meeting a year ago. The win marked the second consecutive season that the Wahine have opened with a win.
The 2020 Rainbow Invite rolls on as the ‘Bows return to the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex for a 6 p.m. tilt with Fresno State.
UPDATE: UH moved to 2-0 on Day 1 with a 15-5 win over Fresno State at DKAC. Layburn recorded 12 saves against the Bulldogs.