There probably aren’t too many similarities between Louisville, Kentucky and Hilo, but Cardinals assistant tennis coach Kevin Fulton managed to bridge the gap of some 4,250-plus miles.
It’s not unusual for college athletes to change locales after two seasons, but Diana Wong’s transfer was a bit different in that the Hilo native started out in Division I and enjoyed two successful seasons at New Mexico.
It was Fulton who helped lure her to Louisville because he made her think of home.
“I transferred because an opportunity for a spot opened up and because I happened to click well with (Fulton),” said Wong, who is gearing up for her senior year. “He reminded me and coached very similar to Randy Kunimoto (my long time coach) and Kula Oda (the former UH-Hilo tennis coach), so I felt just at home.”
In making the move, no one can ever accuse Wong of not wanting to stray from her comfort zone.
The Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science alum was a hit as a Lobo, climbing to No. 1 singles as a sophomore and making the Mountain West Conference all-singles team in 2018. As a freshman, Wong went 16-5.
Instead of resting on her laurels, Wong relished the chance to take on greater competition in the Athletic Coast Conference. She sounds like she has few regrets despite being relegated primarily to Nos. 5-6 singles and No. 2 doubles this past season for the Cardinals, who lost 15 of their final 16 matches to finish 10-15.
“Like at New Mexico I didn’t start at No. 1, in fact, I was put on the bench a couple times before playing No. 1,”she said. “Just like New Mexico, I need to earn my spot at Louisville, and in addition all my teammates are such talented players, it’s just an honor being able to practice and play beside them, whether playing or not it’s always great fun to be a part of a team.”
As a senior, Wong will try to improve upon her 8-15 singles record from last season and 8-13 mark in doubles. She’s studying in the exercise science department and hopes to continue her education a graduate in physical therapy school.
“I’m really excited for my senior year and the team we’re building,” she said. “Our philosophy is always to keep our head down and work hard, but most importantly have fun and enjoy the opportunity.
“Right now I’m focusing just as much off the court as I am with my studies. I’m really excited to finish out my senior season and see what my life carries onto off the court.”
There were two other Big Islanders listed on rosters of Division I college rosters this past spring, Hilo High alum Emily Soares and Kailua-Kona’s Sara Tsukamoto.
Soares wrapped up her junior season at Portland State, finishing 15-14 in singles play, including 7-5 at No. 3 for the Pilots, who finished 8-12 and 3-6 in the West Coast Conference.
Soared played primarily No. 2 doubles, going 8-5. She won a No. 1 doubles match with Anna Oberg and was 12-13 overall.
As a freshman at Hilo, Soares beat Wong, her teammate, for the first of her three BIIF singles titles.
She also teamed with her sister, Kelly, to win a doubles title.
Wong did not play high school tennis her final three years, focusing on junior competition.
Tsukamoto went 13-11 at Cal Davis in singles play as a sophomore, going 10-8 at No. 2, and she was 9-11 at No. 1 doubles with Kelsie Bryant and 13-14 overall.
The Aggies finished 9-14 and 3-5 in the Big West.
Tsukamoto did not play BIIF tennis.
Former Konawaena standout Tayvia Yamagata, who won BIIF singles titles in 2017 and 18 after winning a doubles crown in 2016, signed with Sacramento State, but she was not listed on the Hornets’ 2019 roster.
Here is a look at how other Big Islanders fared during the college tennis season:
• April Wong (Kealakehe) went 13-3 in singles play as a sophomore, including a win at No. 5 as Azusa Pacific won its first match at the NCAA Division II championships and reached the quarterfinals.
Wong was 15-5 in doubles, going 14-4 at No. 2 with Anna Savchenko.