How Keila Kamoku Found the Aloha Spirit in the Deep South
Kennedy Choo • 5/30/2023 in Baseball
(Ole Miss Athletics)
Last month, the University of Mississippi softball team’s season came to an end at the Salt Lake City Regional Final with a 4-1 loss to the host Utes of the University of Utah.
But for Rebel second baseman Keila Kamoku, her softball career is just getting started.
The sophomore increased her batting average by 50 points to .286 (fourth on the team), hit 8 home runs (third), and drove in 24 runs (third). The Rebels finished the regular season at 32-28, earning their second NCAA Tournament berth in a row. In Salt Lake City, they upset the 19th-ranked Baylor University Bears twice but lost to the host Utes twice.
“Keila is really fun to coach because she’s gonna give you personality, she plays hard, she’s confident, hits for power, and she doesn’t get cheated when she swings,” says Ole Miss head coach Jamie Trachsel. “She’s a little feisty. If you watch Keila play, she’s got a lot of personality, she’s really confident, and a little swaggy. That's how a lot of teams from Hawaii play. They play hard, they love what they’re doing, especially when they get over to the mainland to play.”
Kamoku attributes much of her success to her feeling more at home in Oxford, and that’s saying a lot, because home is Kapolei on the island of Oahu, some 4,200 miles away.
In early 2020, Kamoku had verbally committed to play for Trachsel, who at the time was the head coach at the University of Minnesota. However, later that summer Trachsel accepted the head job at Ole Miss, and the coach had to convince her prized recruit to follow her from the Upper Midwest to the Deep South. It didn’t take much convincing. According to Trachsel, Kamoku didn’t know much about Ole Miss or the Southeastern Conference. But, Kamoku told Trachsel she was her coach, and would follow her to Oxford.
“I hadn’t heard of Ole Miss, let alone [could I] point it [Oxford] out on a map,” admits Kamoku. “I was expecting southern belles, frats and sororities and that stuff. I didn’t know about southern hospitality. But I was surprised. That’s how people are back home. The Aloha Spirit and everything.”
However, even though she was feeling more at home in Mississippi than she first expected, she didn’t act like it.
According to Kamoku, back home in the islands, she was used to expressing herself on and off the field. But at a new school and in a new, faraway city, she was afraid that she would say or do something that would be taken the wrong way or give the wrong impression of a first-year player. So she kept to herself, which was uncharacteristic of the extroverted Kamoku.
But last fall, she realized that to be a better player and teammate (and to feel truly at home), she had to be herself.
“I realized that for me to get comfortable, I would have a more vulnerable relationship with my coaches. Because if they don’t know who I am, or my personality, they wouldn’t understand me at all,” says Kamoku. “Let me show myself, let me present myself to my teammates, which also led to better friendships.”
“Don’t change because your environment changes, and that’s something that I will always keep with me,” continues Kamoku. “Because you can take the girl from the island, but you can’t take the island out of the girl.”