University of Hawaii softball standout Ka’ena Keliinoi made quite the first impression during her freshman season in 2020, hitting .292 with one home run while starting all 24 games. Perhaps even more impressive was her abilities with her glove, as she made just one error all year while splitting time between catcher and second base.
It’s not as if the former St. Francis star took the game for granted, but as the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly wiped the season away last March, Keliinoi saw firsthand how there are no guarantees.
“I think before COVID I took it as, ‘Oh, tomorrow’s gonna come, tomorrow’s another day,'” Keliinoi told KHON2 sports director Rob DeMello. “And when it’s just taken away in a split second, it hurt my heart a little not going to the field, not doing the normal softball stuff. Just going and doing weights, seeing everyone, it takes a bigger meaning and appreciation for the sport itself and just a reminder that tomorrow’s never promised. I just think that as long as we take it one day at a time, we should be fine.”
Because the spring sports season ended so early in 2020, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to its student-athletes in 2021, meaning Keliinoi will still be listed as a freshman this season.
Besides leading hitter Calle Heen, the Rainbow Wahine will return the bulk of their production from 2020 when they open their 2021 season against Chaminade on Saturday at noon. For Keliinoi, she hopes to continue to make the most of her opportunities on the diamond, especially since there was a time not long ago when not many were sure a season would happen in 2021.
“I never thought of it as like playing as a freshman again, I just like having more years to play and continue loving the sport. But I’m glad I got the chance to be a freshman again, hopefully with a full season,” Keliinoi said. “I’m very excited for what’s to come in the future with our team now. I’m so excited to see us play alongside Nawai (Kaupe), Cheeks (Ramos), having just one more year to play with them, it’s very special.
“Just to see how far we’ve come, even from last year from being one of the youngest teams to now we have more experience on the field, which makes everyone else comfortable and I can’t wait to see what we do in conference.”
The UH softball team will open its 2021 schedule on Saturday and Sunday with doubleheader exhibitions against Chaminade starting at noon. The Rainbow Wahine will start their regular season slate on March 4 with a three-game series against Washington at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Fans will not be allowed to attend games. It is unknown at this time how many of Hawaii’s games will be offered to watch via livestream.