Wahine celebrate Senior Night with win

Claire Nixon and the rest of the Wahine water polo team will be going for a conference title. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser.
Claire Nixon and the rest of the Wahine water polo team will be going for a conference title. Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser.

Under the newly repaired lights at Duke Kahanamoku Aquatic Complex, the University of Hawaii water polo team’s victory on Saturday brightened the smiles in the pool as the Rainbow Wahine celebrated senior night.

UH senior Caity Lopes da Silva contributed a goal for the sixth-ranked Rainbow Wahine and Emily Carr and Zoe Respondek helped key a stingy defensive effort in a 7-3 Big West win over No. 14 UC Santa Barbara.

After the match, they took another plunge into the pool with their teammates — this time ringed with lei and inner tubes — for the traditional senior float.

“It’s important like we approach every game like it’s a championship game, and it’s always a cherry on top when can come out smiling and feeling proud that we did our best and I think we did play a good game and it’s awesome to celebrate it,” Lopes da Silva said.

The ceremony marked only a momentary farewell before the Rainbow Wahine (13-7, 2-1 Big West) head to California to close the regular season. The next time they enter pool at DKAC in three weeks, they will in fact be in pursuit of a championship when they host the Big West tournament April 24-26.

“In terms of senior night, I feel like emotionally it’s a bit better for me,” Carr said of the tournament. “I would have been more of a wreck if we didn’t come back and get to play in our pool.”

While the conference championship beckons in the distance, the Wahine remained focused on more immediate goals on Saturday.

Sophomore Chloe Barr and juniors Paula Chillida Esforzado and Claire Nixon scored two goals each to help ensure a victorious post game celebration. Lopes da Silva scored on a penalty shot in the first quarter for her 17th goal of the season.

“Scoring isn’t the ultimate goal. Doing your best is the ultimate goal, just trying to help the team out wherever I can and I was privileged enough to be put in a position to score,” Lopes da Silva said.

UH took a 3-1 lead into halftime and continued to pull away in the second half with freshman Ymane Hage finishing the match with seven saves for the Wahine.

“It was a big team effort,” Respondek said. “We’re always looking to help each other on defense and it’s all about getting that stop so we can keep going and counter and defense is our main focus most of the time.”

“Great defense tends to generate offense and I think we did a great job defensively in that first half and it really gave us confidence all the way through,” UH coach Maureen Cole said. “You can get stops, you can get them off balance and you’re just a little more in control on offense when you’re playing good defense.”

The UH seniors came together from Australia (Carr), New Zealand (Lopes da Silva) and Florida (Respondek) and contributed to a conference title in 2013. While the Wahine remain focused on the tasks still ahead, a bit of nostalgia could be afforded them on senior night.

“Extra special for me because they were my first recruiting class here at UH,” Cole said.

“They’ve just brought great leadership, they’re great people, great students and it’s been fun to watch them grow over the past four years.”