Edmonds Community College’s Kalei Cacho-Kekahuna (left) fields a ground ball with (from left) Aubri Burwood, Chantelle Simabukuro, McKenzie Beavin and Tamia Hirano waiting their turn during the Tritons’ softball practice in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Edmonds Community College’s Kalei Cacho-Kekahuna (left) fields a ground ball with (from left) Aubri Burwood, Chantelle Simabukuro, McKenzie Beavin and Tamia Hirano waiting their turn during the Tritons’ softball practice in Lynnwood. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Edmonds Community College softball team has island flavor

Nine of the 14 players on the Tritons’ roster are from Hawaii, as are both coaches.

Related: Hawaiians on the Edmonds CC softball team’s roster

It’s your typical chilly late-winter Wednesday evening in the Pacific Northwest, with the temperatures dipping down to about 40 degrees once the sun sets. The players on the Edmonds Community College softball team have gathered at Triton Field for a practice under the lights, and they’re bundled up in an effort to ward off the cool temperatures.

None of this is surprising. Perhaps the only surprising thing is that the players aren’t adorned in even more layers, considering the majority of them are used to taking the diamond in the tropical conditions of the Polynesian Pacific.

The past three years the Tritons have built a softball-player pipeline between Edmonds and Hawaii, and that pipeline has helped transform the Tritons from the worst of the Northwest Athletic Conference’s struggling programs into one of the stronger teams in the league.

Nine of the 14 players on Edmonds’ roster this season hail from Hawaii, including star sophomore pitcher/designated player Seli Aholelei. It’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement between the Tritons and the players as Edmonds receives access to a larger talent pool, while the players receive an opportunity not available on the islands.

Even though it requires the players to acclimate to different weather.

“We’re still learning how to deal with it,” sophomore shortstop Tamia Hirano said with a laugh.

For years Edmonds was an NWAC afterthought when it came to softball. In the seven seasons between 2007 and 2013 the Tritons were 3-236, never winning more than one game in a season. The team made strides in 2014 and 2015, winning nine games each year, but it wasn’t until 2016, with the arrival of the first Hawaiian players, that Edmonds became an NWAC factor.

As to why Hawaiians are coming to Edmonds to play softball, that’s because of head coach Sheryl Gilmore and assistant coach Adrian Manuel. Gilmore, a graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School, inherited Manuel as an assistant when she took over in the 2014-15 school year. Gilmore is of Hawaiian heritage, while Manuel is originally from Hawaii. So they decided Hawaii was a recruiting area they might be able to tap.

“What I noticed about the girls from Hawaii is that if these girls were playing high school here in Washington, they’d probably be going to NCAA Division I, Division II or Division III schools because of their talent level,” Gilmore said. “Unfortunately, when they’re all the way over there they’re not getting seen as often. So you have a really big talent pool to choose from.”

It’s also a receptive audience. There’s only a handful of four-year colleges in Hawaii that offer softball, and there’s no community-college programs. Therefore, high school softball players have few options at the next level.

“At home there’s no JC level, there’s only D-I and D-II college levels,” sophomore utility player Chastity Stalcup said. “So our main focus and main competition was club softball and high school softball.”

It helps that Edmonds is the rare community college able to offer on-campus housing. Edmonds has dorms that literally overlook the softball field, meaning players traveling across the ocean don’t have to worry about having to find an apartment or have regular access to a car.

The first two players to migrate to Edmonds were outfielder Kamryn Kanae and shortstop Paige Matsuki, who arrived in the 2015-16 school year. As freshmen they helped the Tritons go 20-19 and reach the NWAC Championships, with both earning second-team All-North Region honors. Last year they were both first-teamers as Edmonds went 35-10 to set a school record for wins in a season. Now Kanae is playing at Seattle University while Matsuki is playing at the University of Mary in North Dakota, which proves Edmonds can serve as a stepping stone to four-year college softball.

The combination of recruiting and word-of-mouth has Edmonds making a name for itself in Hawaii. A recent television broadcast of a high school softball game in Hawaii saw all the Hawaiians playing for Edmonds listed on the screen. The Tritons also have six more players from Hawaii set to join the team next season.

“It makes it easier,” Stalcup said about having a community of Hawaiians playing for Edmonds. “It’s way easier to adjust, considering all of us are miles away from home. We don’t have our families here, but we have each other, and our team has created its own family.”

The Tritons are hoping to ride the Hawaiian wave to another successful campaign. Edmonds is 10-3 heading into the start of regional play, as the Tritons head to Shoreline for a doubleheader Saturday. In Aholelei, Edmonds has a returning first-team All-North Region player, while the rest of the roster is also strong.

“I think one of the unique things about this team is we don’t have one or two stars,” Gilmore said. “Everyone kind of pulls their weight and owns their role and does their job. It’s one of the few years I’ve coached where it’s not like there’s one player who’s going to make an impact, where if they’re hot we’re good and if they’re not we’re not. It’s really been a contribution from all the players.”

And a big chunk of that contribution was forged in Hawaii.

If you have an idea for a community sports story, e-mail Nick Patterson at npatterson@heraldnet.com.

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