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Q&A: Nawai Kaupe

By Tiff Wells.

Once again, we take a behind-the-scenes look at a University of Hawaii student-athlete. In this week’s Q&A, we head to the diamond and turn two with Rainbow Wahine softball’s Nawai Kaupe. The junior shortstop out of Maui High School made an immediate impact for UH last season after transferring from Washington.

Q: You played in the Pac-12 for two years at Washington. Just how tough is the Pac-12 in softball?

Without a doubt, the Pac-12 is one of the toughest conferences in softball. In my last two appearances at the Women’s College World Series, there were more Pac-12 teams than the other conferences. It was one of the main reasons why I wanted to go off the island; to challenge myself and compete in a challenging environment where everyone is driven by one common goal: to win the NCAA Championship.

Q: How did playing for the Huskies (77 appearances, 44 starts) help you make the transition to playing for Hawai‘i last season? As a newcomer entering the 2020 season, how did the UH returnees receive you

I almost made the decision to transfer elsewhere, but I decided to bring my knowledge back to Hawai‘i and end the stigma of “getting off the rock to play ball.” If it wasn’t for the amazing opportunities that I had throughout the beginning of my collegiate career at UW,  I wouldn’t have the same strong mentality, open-mindedness of the softball culture, and understanding of gelling well with my new teammates and sisters. My teammates were very welcoming to me and I couldn’t ask for any better welcoming.

Q: You were one of nine players on the 2020 roster that lists Hawai‘i as your home state. As a Wailuku native, how much pride do you have in not only playing for the University of Hawai‘i, but also representing the island of Maui? To you, what does it mean to play for UH?

I’m very happy to see more Hawaiʻi girls wanting to stay here or transfer back to represent their home team. Not saying that those who are off the island arenʻt representing Hawaiʻi, but it’s a different impact on the heart when you wear a Hawaiʻi jersey. Maui no ka oi. No matter what, I represent my island wherever I go. I will endlessly hold it down for the Hawaiian Islands.

Q: How do you balance academics and athletics

It’s definitely difficult balancing everything out, but it’s doable. Time management was not my friend before college and in all honesty, it still isn’t my friend. I’m a returning junior so by then you would think I would get my stuff together. I haven’t quite yet. Time management is very important, especially as a student-athlete.

Q: The first day of the Bank of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Classic ended on March 11th. Take us through that next day when you hear the Big West Conference state all winter and spring sports are postponed, thus ending your 2020 season. How hard was it to process that? What was the morale of the team like? 

The entire team reaction was disappointment, but it was especially upsetting for our seniors. We only had two seniors last year, but they were such strong assets to the team so I didn’t know how to cope with that. One of our seniors is coming back, which is Angelique “Cheeks” Ramos. I’m ecstatic to have another year with her, and excited for Callee Heen to start her adulting life back at her home state of California.

Q: How do you stay physically fit and mentally strong during a global pandemic?

Being mentally strong has been EVERYTHING throughout this global pandemic. I’m always driven to become a better version of myself and I wasn’t going to let a global pandemic stop me from doing that. I trained at home with anything and everything that was durable to get my exercises flawless. To me, every rep is so important no matter if it’s with light or heavy weights. Our trainer, Tanner Hull, was amazing enough to update us on some home workouts even if we didn’t have all the equipment. He was able to create workouts that will benefit us when we do come back in January.

Q: How do you prepare for a season when there is some uncertainty as to when the 2021 softball season will start? 

As of right now, our minds should just assume that we have a season because if we come in with the mentality of potentially not having a season then our grind won’t be the same if we were guaranteed a season. As of right now, I’m just taking every day as if I haven’t skipped a beat from last March.

Q: Softball is different than baseball in a few ways. In softball, you’re more likely to see the same pitcher for the majority of a series. Take us through how you study the opposing pitcher and anyone else who’s likely to be in the rotation. 

An important component is team film, learning and studying the opposing team’s potential defense and offense. I try to do some film with some of our girls and just talk it out throughout our dugout. Constant communication throughout our team is important.

Q: All UH teams log a ton of airline miles every season. What are the musthave items in your carry-on bag when you board the plane? When on the road, do you have a go-to spot for a meal? 

When traveling I definitely need snacks, a pillow, earphones and my laptop. My go-to spot for a meal would probably be Jimmy John’s just because their bread to me is fire, but my cheat meal would definitely be Chick-fil-A!

Q: In your family, who is the best cook? And when you go home, what are a couple of the dishes you request your parents to make? 

That’s hard! They both cook well! My mom would make her juice prime rib and my dad makes the best pork and peas.

Q: You started all 24 games at shortstop for UH, led the team with 25 hits (6 home runs) and hit .347. How did you make such an immediate impact?  

I think I made an immediate impact because I was able to play so freely on the field. But mainly because my teammates were motivating me to keep moving forward even if the odds were against my favor.

Q: It seems that diamond sport athletes are full of superstitions. Do you have any and, if so, what are a couple of yours?  

I need to be chewing candy or some kind of bubble gum. If the bubble gum I eat gets me a hit or I make a play, then I would keep the gum in my mouth, and if I don’t then I would throw my gum away real quick and change it.

Q: Favorite part about the following people: Dickie Titcomb? Kaulana Gould? Deirdre Wisneski? Bob Coolen? 

Coach Dickie always shows up nonchalantly. Coach Lans is like the disciplinarian and actually fires me up when she gets mad at us for not executing our roles. Coach Dee (infield coach) is the chillax one and I’m happy to be learning from her along the way. And Coach Bob speaks his mind and was understanding when I wanted to come back home.

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