UH-Hilo golfer Kaelyn Uchida recently earned her first conference award, and it has inspired her to grow her collection with more hard work on the course.
The 2018 Waiakea graduate already gave Lance and Kara Uchida a proud parental moment when she was named to the All-American Scholar team last year along with departed teammate and fellow Waiakea alum Keely Kitamura.
Uchida was named to the All-PacWest third team by the conference’s coaches, her first golfing recognition, and it hit her straight in the heart.
“It felt really good. I was not expecting to get anything,” she said. “It made me feel really good after not getting anything my freshman and sophomore years. It made me feel special.”
Well, it should feel special considering not everyone gets conference awards. The coaches vote and they’re looking for players who did something special during the season.
Uchida captured PacWest All-Tournament honors after a seventh-place finish at the conference championships in April at Waikoloa Beach. Her teammate and fellow Waiakea alum, a growing theme, Tia Kualii also got an all-tourney award with a 10th place finish.
UHH finished fourth, the best finish since winning the conference championship in 2014. Uchida is also the first Vulcan to earn All-PacWest honors since Kristin Sawada, who was a second-team pick, in 2016.
Uchida posted a season scoring average of 80.33. She had a season-best 3 over 73 on the second day of the PacWest championships.
UHH coach Jim DeMello was equally impressed with Uchida’s achievement.
“That’s terrific, and I’m really happy for her because during the course of the season she didn’t play that well,” he said. “But at Waikoloa and the PacWest championships, she and Tia played really well.
“It’s always good to have local girls. Those are the ones I primarily recruit. She’s pleasant to be around, and a good leader who’s willing to help other players. She’s our best player right now. Her irons and ball-striking are really consistent.”
While Kitamura, the old Warrior, is gone from UHH, another young Warrior comes in. Waiakea senior Kailey Oki will join the Vulcans for the 2022 season when she’ll be welcomed by Uchida, Kualii and freshman Tori Hironaga.
In the small world of everyone is connected to someone, Uchida’s swing coach is Troy Tamiya, whose dad is Earl Tamiya, the UHH men’s golf coach.
“Kailey and I talked about her going to UHH,” said Uchida, full-time student-athlete and part-time recruiter. “Tia, Tori, and I are super excited. She’s going to be a really big help. I told her the environment is really friendly, and we all support and push each other to work hard.”
Basically, it was the same atmosphere at Waiakea, where the golfers had to work hard to earn starting spots. The Warriors kept pushing each other to win five BIIF titles from 2015 to ’19 and claimed the last 15 BIIF champions, the best streak in the league before the pandemic wiped out the 2020 season.
With so many Warriors surrounding her, Uchida feels right at home, considering she grew up and golfed with all her old Waiakea teammates.
“It’s a Waiakea alumni and super fun,” she said. “The biggest thing for me is I’m super comfortable they’re on the team with me, especially on mainland tournaments.”
Uchida noted that DeMello mixes up room assignments and no one snores, so there’s good rest on road trips.
She said the only factor during the pandemic season was the weekly COVID-19 testing and wearing masks at the putting greens and driving ranges. But golf is the easiest sport to social distance, so there were no issues for the Vulcans.
Uchida is taking online classes and majoring in psychology. She hopes to become an elementary school teacher. She’s already working on reaching her goal for next season, too.
“I want to bring my average down to below 80 and have a better season than this past season,” she said.