For Alejandra Flores-Murakami, having the USA women’s national water polo team training at the Kona Community Aquatic Center is more than a dream come true.
“You know the term ‘fan girl?’ — that was definitely what I was doing,” laughed Flores-Murakami, who has been the Recreation Specialist for the County of Hawaii Parks and Recreation Aquatics Division since 2016. “I was just like, oh my god! I immediately called my brother who is also a lifeguard, a pool manager, and who played water polo as well. So, I called him and was like you are not going to believe it!”
Flores-Murakami explained she has been a huge fan of water polo and the USA women’s water polo team ever since she could remember. She grew up playing the sport with a youth league in San Diego before participating in high school. Later, she returned to coach youth water polo and also became a lifeguard while organizing introductory water polo classes to 10-14-year old children as a way to expose them to the sport.
“I’m a certified lifeguard, lifeguarding instructor and instructor trainer,” she said. “I’m also a water safety instructor and water safety instructor trainer through the American Red Cross. This summer makes 22-years since I’ve been a lifeguard.”
Flores-Murakami graduated from UH-Hilo in 2006 and said the university did not have a women’s water polo team as part of their athletic program nor did they have a pool. After being the assistant water polo coach for one season at Hilo High School she noticed the Big Island only offered girl’s high school water polo with no novice or “youth feeder” programs available for younger athletes.
A phone call from Adam Krikorian in January — head coach of the USA women’s water polo team to organize a training camp for his team — instantly sparked an idea to hopefully start a youth water polo program here on the Big Island in the near future.
“That’s immediately what I thought of when the coach called,” Flores-Murakami said. “We really have the opportunity to leverage this sport and really make this sport real for these kids.
“I think writing a story (about Team USA) and just exposing our community to water polo is a step in the right direction. We really want kids to have a healthy outlet in a really fun sport and if we, the County of Hawaii, could continue to offer these little introductory water polo classes until we can develop some kind of league — more than just high school water polo — that would be really super awesome for our community at large.”
Flores-Murakami added that currently, the County is brainstorming on how they will be able to run practice and novice programs, but once they are able to organize it, “You’ve got to believe, we will be trying to implement our introduction to water polo as well.”
Flores-Murakami appreciates the support from the community, along with the Kona Aquatics and Kona Dolphins swim teams.
“Both Dave’s (Gibson) team and Joyce’s (Follis) team are actually going to have to relocate while the water polo team is here. They have been nothing but cooperative and supportive, and also the support and understanding from our community as well when we have to close to accommodate some of these groups.
“We can’t juggle everything — everyone has been so supportive of our aquatics section. So, without the public and the users really bending over backwards for us to accommodate these teams, it really wouldn’t have been possible without that.”