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Hawaiian softball talent makes waves at WWU

Vikings softball set numerous school records this season thanks to emerging talent from Hawaii

Western Washington University softball players from Hawaii pose for a photo. From left to right: Kaiana Kong, Joie Baker and Kanilehua Pitoy. // Photo by Radley Muller courtesy of WWU Athletics

The majority of Western Washington University’s softball team resided in the state before coming to campus. But for pitchers Kaiana Kong, Joie Baker and Kanilehua Pitoy, playing for the Vikings meant traveling over 2,700 miles from Hawaii.

Kong explained that being that far away from friends and family has brought them closer together as teammates.

“We share that bond because we know where we come from,” Kong said. “And we're super proud of being from Hawaii because we're a really small group.”

Kong grew up in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, just outside of Pitoy’s hometown of Honolulu, where opportunities to play softball were less available to her. Kong said that growing up and playing in a diverse community in Hawaii was unconventional, but felt it prepared her for the collegiate ranks.

“It was definitely something different for me,” Kong said. “But I found my independence faster than I thought I would have and that helped me get comfortable quicker.”

Last week, Kong was named GNAC Pitcher of the Week for the second time this season. She went 1-0 with a save, while not allowing a single walk or earned run over 8.2 innings pitched on April 27 and 28. 

Baker, meanwhile, grew up in Mililani, Hawaii, and is from what she described as a “softball family.” Her mother and aunt both played, and organized a league on Oahu that Baker and her sister played in.

She said Hawaiian softball players often have to travel off the islands to the continental U.S. to gain exposure. Doing so as a player with collegiate aspirations was often a grueling and a monetarily expensive process, Baker said.

“A lot of the better girls have to go off-island,” Baker said. “The best time is travel ball. That’s when you really get good exposure, when you start to talk to [college] coaches, and that’s when players will get offers to play collegiately.”

Baker led all Viking pitchers with 106 strikeouts in the regular season and tossed an 11-3 record in the most innings by any Viking this season at 127.0.

Coach Sheryl Gilmore and assistant coach Shearyna Labasan, who’s also from Hawaii, played important roles in recruiting players like Baker, Pitoy and Kong. They took advantage of the opportunity to nab the talented players in each of their respective recruitment classes.

“[Baker], [Pitoy] and [Kong] are three of the most hard-working, humble, kind and genuine people you will ever meet,” Gilmore said. “All three are incredibly talented on the field but they are even better people off the field.”

Of the 22 players on the roster, six are from states other than Washington, including the three from Hawaii.  

Over the last nine seasons, Western has fielded a roster with at least one player from Hawaii on the active roster. This year, with three players on the roster, ties the 2019 roster for the most players from the islands during that span.

“As a coaching staff, we try to create an environment where our student-athletes can show up and be their authentic selves and be proud of who they are,” Gilmore said. “Having a team full of players with different backgrounds and experiences absolutely makes us better.”

The Vikings swept their way through the GNAC tournament this past weekend in Bellingham, beating Northwest Nazarene University in the finals 4-0. Kong and Baker combined for five strikeouts in the shutout victory.

At a 42-7 overall record, they were awarded the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division-II tournament. They will open up tournament action at home against Azusa Pacific University on Thursday at 11 a.m.

Cameron Riggers

Cameron Riggers is a sports and recreation reporter for The Front. He writes about the Western Hockey League for and can often be found at a rink around the Pacific Northwest. You can follow his work on Twitter/X @cammriggs and on Instagram @cammriggs1 and can reach him at

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