As a freshman at Regis University, a Division II school in Denver, Matt Kiyota didn’t get in any games, taking a redshirt year to soak in life far from home — roughly 3,270 miles away.
The 2011 Hawaii Prep graduate enjoyed his time for the Rangers, who didn’t field any other players from the 50th state. He also discovered something right away at Regis, a school comedian Bill Murray attended but did not graduate.
“It was good and something new,” Kiyota said. “It was a nice place to be in, and the people are pretty friendly. They’re easy to get along with.
“But in Colorado, it’s cold. It snows, and I didn’t adjust well to that. When Coach Kaha Wong called my dad, (Walter), to check up on me, he talked to us about Holy Names.”
Holy Names University, which will kick off its inaugural baseball season in 2013, went searching for players. The school contacted Wong, and he suggested four names: Kiyota, fellow 2011 HPA graduate Micah Ashburn, recent HPA graduate Jayse Bannister and recent Kamehameha-Hawaii graduate Nainoa Hart.
Each got a 75 percent scholarship package at Holy Names, which is located in Oakland, Calif., where tuition runs about $32,000 a year.
Holy Names will join the Pacific West Conference, which has the University of Hawaii at Hilo and Hawaii Pacific as members. The four future Hawks will play in front of their families and friends at Wong Stadium at least once a year.
“It’s a four-year school instead of a (two-year) JC,” Bannister said. “We get to come back and play UH-Hilo and HPU, so that’s good. I also got more scholarship money.”
Another bit of good news for Kiyota, a business major, is it doesn’t snow in Oakland. He’ll also have his pick of roommates with all his old HPA pals in the fold, including his battery mate in Bannister, a left-handed pitcher.
When Bannister, infielder Ashburn and catcher Kiyota were together, Ka Makani made three straight appearances at the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state tournament from 2009-11.
Bannister was headed to Lon Morris College, a junior college in Jacksonville, Texas, but the school folded its baseball program. Recent Honokaa graduates Dylan Shiraki and Joey Charbonneau, Kamehameha’s Kaimana Moike and Hilo’s Koa Matson also signed to play there.
Through Wong, four of the five players found new homes. Shiraki and Moike landed scholarships at Eastern Arizona College, with housing (a rarity at the JC level) included in the package. Charbonneau has an offer on the table from Luna Community College, a JC in New Mexico.
“I was pretty stressed,” Shiraki said of Lon Morris canceling baseball. “But with Eastern Arizona, I was relieved and thankful. Just to be going there is a pretty good feeling.
“I’ve been training every day in Waimea with my fellow teammates, Jayse, Matt and Joey. I’m excited and looking forward to college, playing somewhere else and the next level after high school.”
They are not the only hitting students from Kaha Wong’s batting school to change addresses. Ekolu Martins (’11 Hilo) will transfer from Luna College to Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. Taylor Goo (’11 Kamehameha) is planning to transfer from Mesa Community College (Ariz.) to Scottsdale.
“It’s good for them and it’s good for Hawaii,” Kiyota said. “It shows that we’ve got a lot of players out here.”