Friday | November 24, 2017
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Wright On: Three shining moments for Vulcans seniors

We have all been marinated in the imagery of college sports that the billion dollar industry profiting off the free labor of college kids has been selling us for decades.

We know this if we stop to consider how many of them have that “One Shining Moment,” experience the National Collegiate Athletic Association broadcasts to the nation in a seemingly endless loop of joy and accomplishment.

The commercials that run throughout the NCAA basketball tournament sell a gauzy scheme that might represent the collegiate adventure of maybe, one percent of scholarship athletes, though that’s probably a bit high.

This doesn’t mean that the 99 percent of college athletes whose teams don’t win the biggest prize, the ones who aren’t showered in championship confetti, or have endured bad circumstances have had a lousy athletic career. It’s just a reminder that the largest swath of players have a more individualized, and meaningful relationship with their careers.

Danielle Wilson walked away from the pitcher’s circle Saturday at the UH-Hilo softball diamond with her chest heaving emotion and tears running down her cheeks. They weren’t tears of joy after she delivered eight consecutive balls to two batters, prompting coach Callen Perreira to make a change to his starting pitcher on Senior Day, the last home game for the Vulcans.

For Wilson, it was the last game in a way that it wasn’t the last game for the other four seniors. She has been an innings-eater for UHH in each of the last three seasons, leading them in wins as a junior, but her case is different from most any you’ll run into in college athletics because when Wilson walked away from the game the other day, the departure meant a little more than it does to others.

Wilson never played another sport, she was a softball player, mostly a pitcher, and that’s it. She didn’t pursue basketball, soccer or volleyball, each of them sports with far more participants, leagues and teams around the country than softball.

But guess what? It was still good, the involvement in college athletics was still worthwhile, lessons were learned for a young pitcher who had three coaches in four years at UHH.

“It’s been an emotional struggle,” Wilson said last week of her senior season in which she slid back to a third starter, passed in the eyes of Perreira by younger players. “In the back of my head, I know it’s my last year and I want to finish as strong as I can, but it’s all been worth it.”

She is accepting of her senior season challenges and enjoyed her time here enough that a younger sister — once a recruit of previous coach Peejay Brun recruit here — is now being recruited by Perreira and may be joining the Vulcans in the future.

Along the way, with Brun, Wilson learned the feel of a team coming together, singing the same verse, on the same key, completely together. With Perreira, she has learned more about individual attention, what to look for as trouble spots in a pitcher’s motion, all of which will be valuable when she starts her own coaching career back home.

“The game is great,” she said. “It’s challenging and if it doesn’t always come out the way you want, it makes you go back to work.”

Cristina Menjivar’s path to her last home game took longer than anyone on the squad, probably longer than anyone in the conference. She accepted a scholarship to San Jose State University out of high school and was immediately soured on the whole concept of NCAA privilege and excitation.

Draw your own conclusions, because Menjivar left after her freshman season. She transferred to City College of San Francisco, played a season then dropped out and didn’t play the game for three years.

That explains why, on Senior Day, she was the senior citizen, as nominated by her teammates. She lived her life for a few years, considered her options and eventually decided to enroll at UHH, not to play softball. She wasn’t discovered by Brun last year, it was the other way around.

“Nobody knew me or anything,” Menjivar said. “It took me a while, but in the spring (2015), I walked into her office and asked if I could be a walk-on.”

Brun encouraged her to turn out, and then there was a time the tables were turned and the coach asked the player to show up in her office.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Menjivar, now 24, said of the day Brun asked her to sign her name on scholarship. “She was intense and I loved it, (Brun) really whipped my butt into shape and my time here has been great.

“I love UH-Hilo,” she said, “it has been so great for me to be here, they let me do my thing and just allowed me to be happy.”

The happiness became celebratory a year ago when, in her first year back, Menjivar was voted first team all-Pacific West Conference, and the fact that you might not see her there this year is attributable to another milestone.

From now on, Perreira has instituted what he’s calling the “Cristina Rule.” Her batting average had dipped to .224 in March when she was fitted for new contacts on a mainland trip to the Bay Area. Since then, she has hit at a .352 clip.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I knew things weren’t quite right, but I didn’t realize it was as simple as (an eye check).”

With her vision regained, Menjivar made a nice memory for herself with a home run that proved the winning margin in a 4-3 victory over Chaminade on Saturday. She won’t be going anywhere soon, Menjivar is contemplating further study, maybe a masters program and an extension of the island lifestyle.

“I love it here,” she said, a comment that ran through this year’s five seniors.

You can underline that for catcher Danielle Pulido who caught her 167th game for the Vulcans on Saturday.

“I feel older than I should,” she said Saturday, laughing at her long list of games started at UHH.

Then, a little later, she felt younger all over again. With family in the stands to watch her last home game, Pulido did something she’s never done in college. She hit a grand slam home run in a 12-6 win.

You could almost imagine music blaring and confetti coming out of the sky as she reached home plate to be greeted jubilantly by her teammates.

Big-stage national attention is for others. These young women learned something more important here on the Big Island, just like the song says about getting what you want.

They got what they need, something they’ll find is far more important in the years ahead.


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