By JOE FERRARO
Camille Kiyota had peace of mind when her plane landed at Kona International Airport on Sunday.
On her flight from the West Coast, the Hawaii Prep senior had narrowed down her list of college choices from two — Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., and Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash. — to one, lifting a heavy burden off her shoulders.
“I was going to go (to Whitworth),’’ said Kiyota, who took the trip with her father, Walter. “There was no doubt in my mind when we got off that plane.”
Or so she thought.
One unexpected phone call from Wagner College softball coach Glen Payne the following day changed everything. In the end, a strong rapport with Payne and the opportunity of a lifetime suddenly made Kiyota’s final decision anything but final.
On Wednesday, Kiyota verbally committed to play softball at Wagner College, a Division I school in Staten Island, N.Y.
A combination of academic and athletic scholarship money will cover approximately 65 percent of her tuition/room and board costs.
Just before she flew back to the Big Island, Kiyota had seen championship-level softball at Linfield, which won a Division III national title in 2011 and finished as the World Series runner-up the following year. Whitworth, which finished its season 23-20, was no slouch either.
But Kiyota sensed Payne genuinely cared for her as a student, and that was crucial considering Kiyota will live in the Big Apple — more than 5,000 miles away from home.
Kiyota has not decided her major but has thought about studying law.
“He was nice, and I felt he would take care of me if I went all the way to New York,’’ Kiyota said. “He would make sure I got all the classes I needed and that everything would be squared away when I got there.”
And once she gets there, she’ll also look forward to life outside of softball.
“I felt like being far away from home would be a good experience,’’ Kiyota said. “It would allow me to explore the world a little more.”
Kiyota first learned about the Staten Island school when she met a Wagner admissions representative at a Hawaii Prep college fair in October.
Kiyota submitted a college application, and Payne requested game film of the HPA infielder a month later.
But she never heard back from him — until Monday.
Apparently, the school lost Kiyota’s game film and various important files because of computer system malfunctions. Also, days before Kiyota’s trip to the West Coast, a representative from Wagner called and asked if Kiyota had received mail from the school. She did not because the school had an incorrect address on file.
Wagner promptly sent a FedEx package full of mail, and it included letters informing Kiyota she’d receive academic scholarship money if she chose to attend Wagner.
Walter Kiyota sent film to Payne, and he liked what he saw.
“He really liked my swing and the power he saw,’’ Camille Kiyota said.
Kiyota played third base, second base and catcher for Ka Makani, which ended its season 1-14 on Tuesday.
Payne did not discuss a specific position for Kiyota but said she’d have the opportunity to play immediately.
She figures she’ll play “somewhere on the infield.’’
Wagner will carry an 11-36 record into a Northeast Conference game against Farleigh Dickinson on Sunday.
“He said he would give me a fair chance at playing time and to compete during practice,’’ she said.
Before high school, Kiyota played youth baseball in Waimea. However, she spent the past five summers in the Hilo-based Nobu Yamauchi RBI Softball program, where Wayne Yamauchi and James Hirayama helped hone her softball skills.
Kiyota expressed gratitude for Yamauchi and his wife, Agnes, who provided a place for her to stay during the summer. HPA coach Betsy Tranquilli also played a role in her development.
“Coach B really helped me throughout the season, kept me fine-tuned,’’ Kiyota said of Tranquilli. “The (RBI) coaches helped me improve and grow as a player.’’