At 5 feet, 4 inches with a quiet demeanor, Shaniya Kamakea-Wong doesn’t make an imposing first impression, and is sometimes easily 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.
Like Pagala, who graduated with a 3.9 grade-point average, 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, on Railroad Avenue next to Pacific Gymnastics, 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 and 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.”
She is the eldest of George and Brandi Kamakea’s three children. Her brothers are Dylan, an eighth grader, and Jayten, a fifth grader. Both are also Wong hitting students.
George Kamakea, who works for Pepsi, is 5 feet 11 while Brandi is 5-9. Her brother Hauoli, Wong is 6-7 and their uncles are 6-2 or taller.
Somehow, Kamakea-Wong (she wanted both surnames) struck out swinging in the height department. She’s got mom’s smile, but not her height.
“It skipped me. I wanted to be tall so badly I didn’t get it,” Kamakea-Wong said. “My favorite thing is milk, but that didn’t help. Stretching didn’t help either.”
Her family moved to Mountain View in 2004 from Waimanalo, Oahu. Brandi Kamakea played softball at Kailua High, and she has relatives on the Big Island.
About her daughter’s grades, Brandi half-joked that a “C” isn’t allowed in her household, putting an exclamation point on the importance of academics.
In that regard, Kamakea-Wong is a replica of her parents. She’ll push to give it her all, especially in a game built on persevering through failure. She and her parents leave Sunday for Luna.
“My father has always taught me to believe in myself, and to stay strong and fight for what I want,” she said. “Even though he worked, he always made it to every one of my games. I am the person I am today because of my parents.
“Softball has taught me how to control my emotions, and how to lead and just become a better person in general.”