Winning the Big Island Interscholastic Federation title was nice, but Fantacie Keahilihau-Kuamoo and the rest of the Hilo High softball team know there’s a whole lot more out there.
Sure, the Vikings had a lot to celebrate late last April. They ended rival Waiakea’s dynasty en route to winning their first BIIF crown since 2006.
Then the calendar turned to May, and all the fun ended. Still celebrating its win over Keaau in the Division I final, Hilo packed its bags for the Hawaii High High School Athletic Association tournament. But it left its confidence on the Big Island.
“We were scared,” ace-to-be Aliesa Kaneshiro said. “We had a lot of nerves. That just broke us down.”
It showed. The Vikings lost via mercy rule in their first game and failed to score a run in a quick two-game exit. Hilo had worked hard to get back to the top, only to realize that more hurdles needed to be climbed.
Keahilihau-Kuamoo certainly hasn’t forgotten. So when the standout shortstop fields a question about Hilo perhaps resting on its laurels as the defending league champion, she quickly turns on it like so many of the pitches she hammers in the batter’s box.
“No it is not (harder to find motivation),” said Keahilihau-Kuamoo, who hit above .500 last season as a run producer in the heart of the lineup. “That’s our goal this year. To compete past the Big Island mentality. Meaning, being able to think we can compete with Oahu teams at a higher level. So that when we play teams here, it will be easier to motivate ourselves to push harder.”
The state disappointment not withstanding, Coach Leo Sing Chow feels her program has come a long way and is right where she figured it would be entering her fourth season.
“There’s a lot of spark on how the experience went on Oahu last year,” she said. “They want to be able to compete, and not just show up.”
The Vikings don’t enter the season with a pitcher who has ever thrown in a varsity game, but they’re hopeful that Kaneshiro can take over for her older sister, Ashlyn, as the team’s workhorse
But the infield is a veteran unit and strength with Keahilihau-Kuamoo, Shyanne Higa-Gonsalves, Caitlyn Price and Seini Nau, and Hilo is bolstered by the welcomed return of Jordyn Breitbarth and a freshmen class that Sing Chow is high on, both for its athleticism and its softball IQ.
The coach admitted that one of her biggest problems this season might be who she has to leave off the lineup card.
“The potential is huge this year,” Sing Chow said. “We have a lot of talent and our bench is deep and we have versatile players. We’re not having to do as much teaching, just fine-tuning.
“But that doesn’t mean that this is the team that is going to come out on top. As we tell the girls, it comes down to who plays the best together. We’re not going to take anybody lightly. We are still putting the pieces together.”
And Sing Chow, who pitched Kamehameha-Oahu to a state title in 2002 before playing at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, already has taken her team back to Oahu to remind them how much work still needed to be done.
“Just in case they forgot,” she said.
Keahilihau-Kuamoo noted that the message was received. The results in a preseason tournament were much better,
“Last year, we went up there shell-shocked; a frozen face,” she said. “But this year we went and we saw the competition, and we saw that we were able to compete at their level.”
Instead of trying to gun down runners at catcher, Aliesa Kaneshiro, a junior, will try to show off her arm in the circle.