Star On Land, In Water

Successes in soccer, water polo propel Aisha Price to Harvard

Department: Athletics

By Diane Pizarro

Academy standout athlete Aisha Price '09 was worried last year when choosing colleges that she might face a tough decision between her two passions: soccer and water polo.

Many college coaches prefer their players to participate in only one sport, she said. But Price's dream was realized when she was accepted to Harvard University with an invitation to play both sports.

"Going to Harvard popped out of nowhere," she said. She had emailed the soccer coach, Ray Leone, with her tournament dates, standard practice in an athlete's college application process. "He saw me play and liked what he saw," she said. Harvard water polo coach Erik Farrar also later watched her play. "Both were really willing to take me on and both were really understanding about how I wanted to do both," she said. She decided Harvard was the right combination of great academics and athletics.

Price has been playing soccer for as long as she can remember, since she was just 3 years old. "It's just always been a part of my life," said the 17-year-old athlete. But in seventh grade, she discovered another passion, water polo.

Ken Smith, her seventh-grade advisory teacher and Punahou's water polo coach, encouraged her to try out for the sport after watching her play dodgeball, she recalled. "He saw that I could throw pretty far and I was pretty coordinated, so every day in the mornings he would say, ‘Aisha, 60 days till water polo season. I want you to play, I want you to play,' " Price said.

Smith laughed and agreed with Price's recollection: "I was relentless." Price, then a seventh-grader, had never before heard of water polo. "I went home and my dad said, ‘Just try it.' ... I did pretty well in the tryouts and ever since then it's just been a passion of mine."

Price attributes her success in water polo to Smith, her coach and mentor, saying, "He just always inspires me." Smith said one attribute that has made Price stand out is the leadership and mentorship she has provided the team. "That's what really separates good athletes from great athletes, that commitment to excellence in the areas of mind, body and spirit ... she does that as well as anybody I've ever coached, and that's why she's so successful," Smith said.

Successful indeed. Price is coming off a spectacular senior year, having played on two championship teams. She was named Honolulu Advertiser All-State Co-Player of the Year after helping Punahou win the girls soccer state championship, breaking Kamehameha's three-year winning streak. She also was named ILH co-player of the year after helping Punahou win its second straight water polo state title. She was selected as Punahou athlete of the year, sharing the title with seniors Kristin Lim, Christel Simms and Manti Te'o. And she was inducted to the 2009 Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association Foundation Hall of Honor. She also received the 2009 President's Award, which recognizes students who have distinguished themselves as scholars, leaders and inspirational citizens. In the off-season, she plays soccer with Le‘ahi Soccer Club with Kamehameha Schools coach Michele Nagamine.

Despite the recognition, Aisha remains humble and insists she is part of a team: "I never considered myself to be the standout. On some teams you'll have standout players who hold the team up and their skills are just beyond everyone else. But I always consider myself to be not the best player, but a player who works hard and tries to keep everyone else together. Being named co-player is a standout award so it was a surprise and I was really happy to receive it." Price said she is grateful to her teachers, coaches and friends at Punahou. "It's such a great part of who I am. It's been a huge blessing in my life."

Outside of school and sports, Price enjoys spending time with friends and her family. "Our family is really close. Every night we eat dinner together and during the weekends we always try to take time out of our schedules to spend time together as a family." Her sister, Shayna '10, plays on the same water polo team, and together the Price sisters scored nine goals in Punahou's 12-4 championship win over Kamehameha.

At Harvard, Price plans to continue her study of Chinese, which she acknowledges will be valuable in the future, and perhaps business. But she also sees coaching in her future - whether coaching her own children in youth soccer or as a career, she's still unsure.

To the younger students who have yet to find their passion, she says: "I found my niche at Punahou in sports, but I know that there is so much here that Punahou offers for kids. There's debate to music to drama to dancing to science bowls; there's so much. Find what you love to do and just try your best at it and just explore."


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