When the day of the ILH season opener arrived, Keila Kamoku was ready.
So were her teammates and coaches at Kamehameha. The softball wars of the ILH were at full throttle from that first day, when Kamoku blasted two home runs and drove in five runs. One of those taters went beyond both the softball and baseball fences. The baseball barrier is actually behind home plate of the Warriors’ baseball practice field. Beyond that, a precipice where the long-gone softball dropped and was never recovered.
That homer sailed at least 300 feet, possibly 350. The baseball team was seated on the grass, beyond the softball center field fence. When Kamoku connected on her monster swat, most of them stood immediately. One of them began to chase after the towering shot, but he stopped after a few steps, realizing the neon green sphere was no longer in his universe.
Kamehameha won, 9-7, but Kamoku has another memory from that game.
“That one play in the six-hole, the diving backhand, I feel like that was a deciding factor between a win or a loss,” the shortstop recalled. “It was full bases. For me, that would be my favorite memory. Our whole team was practicing very hard that week because Punahou is always our rival, next to Maryknoll. It was very serious for us. After we came out with that victory, everything was so perfect.”
The Warriors then overwhelmed another powerhouse, Maryknoll, three days later, Kamoku homered again and drove in four runs in a 10-3 win.
The following week, ‘Iolani shackled Kamehameha, 12-0. The Raiders walked Kamoku twice, and she was 0-for-1 in the six-inning, TKO loss.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. Kamoku batted .500 in ILH play with nine RBIs, four runs scored, three walks and three home runs. Power. Speed. Arm strength. Fielding range. Hitting for average.
Kamoku was on her way to a potential Star-Advertiser All-State player of the year honor. As a junior. With a 4.0 grade-point average.
“I feel that we can’t control what happens in our environment. All we can do is work on our craft and keep growing as a student-athlete and make the best of what we have in front of us right now,” she said.
Right now means Kamoku is taking six classes online as a senior.
Kamoku had offers from Cal State Riverside, Hawaii, LMU, Nevada, North Carolina State, North Dakota, San Jose State, Texas and Washington by the time she chose Minnesota. Washington was ranked No. 2 by Softball America in late February before the NCAA season was called off. Texas was No. 3. Minnesota was No. 20.
“I was committed to Minnesota about a year ago. I went on my visit. Everything was perfect except for the snow. It was really cold. I had to double up on jackets,” she said.
However, by April, coach Jamie Trachsel left the Golden Gophers to become the new coach at Ole Miss.
“She called me and told me I was her first choice to come with her to Ole Miss. To me, it felt like a huge blessing. I would say one of my biggest success because Ole Miss is kind of big. The SEC is No. 1. It just gave me the chills and I didn’t know how to act when she called me. It caught me by surprise.”
Since then, the Kamoku ohana has gone all-in.
“My family was very excited. They immediately were looking into new gear to buy. My dad (Kela) is totally in love with their softball uniforms. They have five different uniforms and the Carolina blue is eye-opening,” she said. “They’re sponsored by Easton and Nike.”
Kela Kamoku invested heavily into his oldest child. Rep after rep after rep into the batting net at home. Work is what Kamoku does. Training with her brothers. Training with friends. Lifting. Hitting. Running. She hasn’t stopped through the pandemic. Long before, Division I coaches across the country knew about the power-hitting shortstop.
“Since this pandemic started, it kind of pushed me to show my work ethic toward the game. My dad always told me, ‘If you work hard and push every day, there’s nobody else who can work harder than you.’ That changed my mind-set,” she said. “All we have is a cul-de-sac, a net and a tee, and a footwork ladder. My dad is always outside working with me. I’m fielding ground balls. I’m on the tee.”
The weight training shows most in her bat speed and power.
“My neighbor (Jon Anuenue) is kind of a weight-training coach. He trains Alema and Akamu Moeava (of Punahou) and my brother Blaze (Kamehameha). They work out separate from me and my other brother, Diezel,” Kamoku said. “We work out three to four times a week. We run up and down our street with sand bags in our backpack for cardio. After the run, we do core. Sit-ups, dead bugs, planks. After we do core, we do warmups for the workout of the day.”
Kamoku’s max on the dead lift is 225 pounds. On the bench, it is 135.
“Our schedule for the first couple of weeks, we did bench and dead lifts. Then back squats and whatever (Anuenue) decides,” she said.
Off-season ball is where recruiters got a chance to see Kamoku play. Last November, Kamoku played in a California tournament.
“There were a bunch of D-I coaches and that’s where I got looks from Texas, Washington and Minnesota. That’s where I got those offers,” she said. “My travel coach (Price Hansen) said that the schools that will best fit you and make you feel most comfortable are the ones that are most family-oriented. I used that as a guide to gain personal connections with my coaches.”
This year’s summer plan was wrecked to an extent, but she still got plenty of work against some of the nation’s top pitchers in California.
“My travel team, Easton Preps Hansen, was supposed to play seven tournaments. Since the cases got really high in L.A. County, they cancelled a lot of tournaments. We only played in two tournaments at the end,” Kamoku said.
She made up for lost time with the explosive start in ILH play. Senior year could be distanced, but her college future is set.
“Shout out to my dad for being my coach through all my years in baseball and softball, since I was a little kid. He’s been my coach as long as I can remember. For him being so strict on me, that’s what shaped me to be the player I am today,” Kamoku said.
Kela Kamoku played football at Leilehua. Keila’s mother, Maile (Gonzales), was a soccer player at Campbell.
“They met through a couple of friends,” she said.
Top 3 movies/shows
1. Grey’s Anatomy. “I rewatched the whole thing for the fifth time.”
2. Jersey Shore. “My favorite.”
3. The Kissing Booth 2.
Top 3 foods/drinks
1. Ahi poke bowl, Foodland in Kapolei.
2. S7-Icy Bubble, Kapolei. “I like the mango smoothie. My mom pays for it.”
3. Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, Haleiwa.
4. Funfetti Moist Supreme cake mix. “It’s a Pillsbury dessert I make for myself at home. I eat half the cake and ask if anybody else wants some. It’s so good, especially with the frosting and Meadow Gold vanilla ice cream.”
5. Sweet Lady of Waiahole (haupia ice cream), Waiahole Poi Factory. “That’s my favorite.”
Top 3 music artists
1. Megan Thee Stallion.
2. Rod Wave.