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Warriors, Gurney saved best for last

Ava Gurney

Kamehameha basketball  •   #8    Junior

Ava Gurney and the Kamehameha girls water polo team saved their best for last. 

Gurney, a junior center and third-year varsity player, scored three goals — all of them after halftime — to help the Warriors defeat 13-time defending state champion Punahou, 6-1, in title game of the Title Guaranty/HHSAA State Championships last week Monday. 

The victory put a cap on a banner season for the program, which finished the season with a record of 12-2. The end result gave Kamehameha just its second state crown and first since 2006. 

"I thought we played our best game of the year in that championship match, which is something that we stress, peaking at the end of the season," Warriors coach Anthony Cabrera said. 

"We talk about trying to improve every day," he added. 

Gurney was a steady contributor all season for Kamehameha and finished as the team's leading scorer with 27 goals, including nine in three games at states. 

"I think she got stronger throughout the tournament, just like the team did. It was definitely a good showcase of her skills and I'm really, really happy with how she played throughout the tournament," Cabrera said. 

Cabrera describes the 5-foot-4 Gurney as an "aggressive, gritty player.

"She really excels posting up and getting the ball in and scoring from the post and center position," he said. 

Cabrera pointed to Gurney's physicality — despite her smaller stature — as what makes her special. 

"She gets in there and plays a lot bigger than her size out of the pool and she definitely doesn't let that limit how she plays. She wants to play a tough, physical game and she isn't afraid to get in there and mix it up and let her presence be known," Cabrera said. 

Gurney found the back of the net in 12 of the Warriors' 14 matches this season, including nine multi-goal games. 

"She had a really good season and I think we just saw her improve throughout the season and the team as a whole, but her, for sure. She just kept improving and the culmination was in that championship," Cabrera said. 

Gurney's knack for scoring helped Kamehameha claim its first Interscholastic League of Honolulu title since 2006. 

"She's obviously a huge part of our team offensively and we look to her for kind of a spark when we need a pick-me-up goal and she will definitely drive in and post up and looks to take up space and we try to get the ball into her and she does a really good job of finishing in front of the goal," Cabrera said. 

Cabrera expressed that Gurney's success can be traced to both her natural athletic ability and her tireless work ethic. 

"She does work really hard," he said. "She puts in a lot of hard work in the offseason, traveling up to tournaments on the mainland, but you have to have some natural ability too, right? With her, it's a good mix. She's definitely talented and there's some things she knew before she came to us, but she definitely puts in a lot of hard work as well."

In the quarterfinals of the state tournament, Gurney scored a pair of goals in a 14-5 win over Hawaii Prep. The following day she notched four goals in a 16-2 semifinal win over Kaiser. 

In the championship final, the Warriors held a 2-0 halftime lead, before Gurney helped them pull away with three second-half goals en route to the 6-1 victory over Punahou in a rematch of the ILH final. 

It was Buffanblu's lowest scoring output of the season. 

"(Goalkeeper) Kahala (Neumann) had seven blocks, I think it was, so she did a really good job making sure she wasn't giving up anything within her reach and our defense did a good job of getting in between (the Buffanblu) and the goal and funneling everything to our goalie and forcing them to maybe take uncomfortable shots," Cabrera said. 

But the numbers don't really tell the whole story when it comes to Gurney's contributions in the pool. 

"I think maybe the only thing is you see goals and maybe it doesn't show how hard she works to get in position to score by virtue of the fact that the position she plays is a really physical position. The other thing the goals probably don't show — and I don't know the exact number — but she probably drew a number of penalty shots for us, so it's almost like an assist," Cabrera noted. 

He also detailed how Gurney plays with a lot of passion.

"She's an emotional player but that's what fuels her in the game. She wears her emotions on her sleeve and that's how she plays and it can help the team," Cabrera said. "When she's feeling good, the team's feeling good and playing well."

Gurney was one of four Kamehameha players selected to the all-tournament team. Joining her were seniors Kohia Rego, Jordyn Nishimura and Neumann, who was tabbed as the tournament's most outstanding player. 

"All the credit really goes to the girls. The hard work that they put in in the offseason and throughout the season really payed off in the state tournament and especially in the championship game and I just couldn't be more proud of how far they've come and how much they've grown as athletes," Cabrera said. 

Gurney and Nishimura were named All-ILH First Team, as selected by league coaches. Tea Brandon, Leinaala Wong and Neumann were picked to the Second Team, while Rego earned ILH Player of the Year recognition and Cabrera was pegged as Coach of the Year. 

Reach Kalani Takase at [email protected].

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