At 5 feet, 4 inches with a quiet demeanor, Shaniya Kamakea-Wong doesn’t make an imposing first impression, and is sometimes overlooked.
That all changes when the 2014 Keaau graduate grabs a bat, and starts to pummel softballs all over the field.
She lets her bat do the talking, and her production at the plate led to a scholarship to Luna College in New Mexico, where she’ll join several classmates from Kaha Wong’s hitting school.
Recent Hilo graduates Micah Kaaukai and Isaiah Banasan signed baseball scholarships at Luna. Bronson Pulgados, a 2013 Kamehameha graduate, is also on the Rough Riders’ roster.
Wong, no relation to Kamakea-Wong, has landed more than 50 scholarships for his pupils, and the former Keaau Cougar third baseman is the latest.
She is the first Cougar for either baseball or softball to sign a scholarship to play college ball in Keaau’s 15-year school history.
Jacy Pagala, a 2012 Keaau graduate, was the first to sign a scholarship for basketball. She’s at Arizona Western.
Kamakea-Wong was a hit on and off the field. She finished with a 3.8 GPA and hopes to become an athletic trainer.
In Kamakea-Wong’s eyes, her scholarship shined a positive light on her old school.
“Not a lot of people pay attention to Keaau,” she said. “I owe it all to coach Kaha. This means the world to mean. I’ve always wanted to play college ball.
“It feels really good. Not a lot of people from Keaau get scholarships, other than Jacy.”
She was also awarded $500 for college from the Cougar Booster Club.
“She’s academically solid, and works hard at her sport,” Keaau athletic director Iris McGuire said. “She’s a quiet kid and doesn’t get noticed too much.”
During her senior season in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, Kamakea-Wong had a .470 batting average, and received honorable mention on the all-league Division I team.
Kamakea-Wong joined Wong’s hitting school in the eighth grade. She doesn’t have Kolten Wong’s swing or even workout partner Kiani Wong’s stroke. Kamakea-Wong has her old swing, only refined and sharpened.
In fact, as testament to Wong’s direct-path swing philosophy, Kamakea-Wong didn’t strike out as a junior or senior.
Wong has built strong relationships with Luna baseball coach Antonio Siqueiros and softball coach Nathan Trujillo that he’s able to get his pupils scholarships sight unseen.
“There was no video sent. Coach Kaha got the scholarship for me,” Kamakea-Wong said. “He called the coach, and the coach was on the phone, and he said he would give me a scholarship.”
She attends Wong’s school every day, and has two sessions: 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. There’s not only hitting instruction, but running, fielding, weight lifting and agility drills.
There are also life lessons thrown in as a bonus. On Wednesday, Kamakea-Wong got a refresher course in an old favorite: attention to detail.
“He’s molded me into the player I am. He’s always taught me to push and give my all,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot about dedication. I had a session at 8 a.m. but got there at 7:56. That was late. He told me, ‘No excuses.’
“He told me about the weather changes at Luna. He laughed at me when he told me I’d be playing in snow. At the plate, he’s taught me to be confident, relax and do what you do.”