LAHAINA - It would be extremely tough to find a more difficult situation to find oneself in than the one first-year Lahainaluna High School water polo coach Bradley Mason faced this spring.
The Lady Lunas had won 53 straight matches and five consecutive Maui Interscholastic League championships coming into this season as he took to the Lahaina Aquatic Center pool to attempt to keep the streaks alive.
But any coach of any sport will tell you it's harder to repeat than it was to get that first championship. Then subtract ten graduated players from that squad, including 2011 MIL Player of the Year Gina Bela Mata'afa, and the water that was so title clear in years gone by has turned suddenly murky.
The Lahainaluna High School water polo team finished the season at 10-3.
But, led by Coach Mason - a former high school All-American swimmer and water polo player from Illinois who competed collegiately at the University of Illinois at Chicago - and assistants Carol Rosetta and Chris Calvert, the Lady Lunas hung tough in 2012 and barely missed a ticket to the state tournament in a disappointing loss to eventual MIL runner-up Kamehameha Maui to finish 10-3 on the season.
"We had all of the MIL teams gunning for us throughout the season, and the girls struggled with focus and toughness all year long," explained Mason from his classroom at Sacred Hearts School, where he is a math and science teacher.
"The girls worked hard at times but just didn't have that edge to work harder than their opponents - just a little more effort and focus, and we would have been champions," he continued.
"We need to practice and carry ourselves as champions if we want to be champions. We need to focus on improving our swimming in technique, endurance and speed."
The Lady Lunas were led this season by senior co-captains Bela Pinto and Kanoe Dodd, along with classmates Sam Fenyen, Amanda Arakawa, Ashley Probst and Leilani Miranda; juniors Bridget Joy, Courtney Galarita and Hannalore Rolfing; sophomores Maile Altier, Kim Yap, Sierra Lerbeck, Chervelle Fretas and Siera Olvera; and freshmen Addi Johnson, Kylie Keale-Smith, Kelly Gallagher and Sophia Fredy.
In the end, and despite the end of the match and MIL title streaks, Coach Mason remains optimistic about the future of Lady Luna water polo.
"These girls really had heart and battled to the end of every match. There was a core group of them that really stuck to it and kept fighting, and that meant a lot to the coaches. We'll channel this work ethic into next year. Our expectation is to win the MIL and go to states every year - to continue the tradition of champions here. We don't consider a season a failure, only lessons learned," Mason said.
"We're fired up about next year, and we're grateful to the support we received from people like Don Galarita and Becky Altier, as well as Athletic Director Scott Soldwisch."