By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
LONG BEACH-For four years, Heather Cameron and Jennifer Iseri were just two dominant fixtures that help resurrect the Cerritos High softball program to prominence. Now the two best friends, who first met 10 years ago, are back home after completing their freshmen campaigns at the University of Hawai’i.
Cameron and Iseri, who helped Cerritos to a 71-30 combined record from 2012-2015, the best four-year mark for the program since it went 85-38 from 1999-2002, had their shares of highs and lows this past season for the Rainbow Wahine. But they also agreed that it was a learning lesson, one that will help them as they move on in their college days.
“It was rough for me,” Cameron said. “Adjusting is a big deal for grades and for softball. But having Jen with me and always being there…she’s always been there since I was eight. Everything is great when she’s behind me and I made great friends and great teammates and they’ve always pushed me. I can’t complain.”
“I think I expected a little bit more, both offensively and defensively,” Iseri said. “Playing more in the outfield than pitching was a big step for me and a big change for me as well. But I love it. I’m willing to do anything that there is to benefit the team.”
UH ended its regular season against Long Beach State University on May 13 and 14, winning the first game 3-2 before dropping both games of a doubleheader, 1-0 and 4-2. Iseri didn’t play in any of the games but Cameron was behind the plate in the first two games and was hitless in four official at-bats. In the May 13 game, Cameron led off in the top of the third, fifth and seventh innings while she came up with the bases loaded in the second inning on May 14 and with a runner on base in the fourth.
Cameron and Iseri were first noticed by UH head coach Bob Coolen at a Junior Olympic Tournament in Las Vegas in June prior to setting foot at Cerritos High. It didn’t take Coolen, who has been on the islands for 25 seasons, long to take notice that he wanted Cameron and Iseri.
“It was their softball awareness,” Coolen remembered. “Both of them had a softball IQ; they knew the game. I could tell Cam was a student of the game as well as Jen, and it comes from having dads as coaches. That sort of translates to a little bit of IQ.
“Jen being a lefty, everyone wants lefties,” he continued. “So she translates for our team better. We can use her to pitch, we can put her in the outfield and get her from the left side. Cam’s been doing a very good job. She works very well with our pitching, especially Brittany [Hitchcock]. Brittany likes to throw to her.”
Cameron didn’t get her feet wet until the sixth game of the season, Feb. 15, when she started her first collegiate game against the University of Missouri, Kansas City. But in her fifth game, which was also her second start, she recorded her first hit on Feb. 26 against Utah Valley. Including her performance against LBSU, Cameron ended her freshman season with seven hits in 46 at-bats.
“I couldn’t stop shaking and I made a couple of errors,” Cameron recalled of the UMKC game. “But after that, I was comfortable with the pitchers and playing with the team and I felt a lot better after that first game.
She added that she really needed to work hard to adjust to the Hitchcock, a sophomore from Ocean View High School, and junior Kanani Aina Cabrales, a transfer from Georgia Tech University. But on Mar. 4 against Coastal Carolina University, and the 19th game of the season, Cameron caught Iseri, who was making her first start of the season. Iseri would pitch eight innings and give up two runs in a victory.
“I always have max confidence whenever [Jennifer and I] are the battery because we just click so well,” Cameron said “We kind of have the same brain in a way. We know what we’re going to call and we know how it’s going to go and if things go bad, we know how to fix it.”
“I think it’s easier for a catcher to adjust to pitchers just by catching them in practice,” Coolen said. “A pitcher adjusting to a new catcher has to learn their mentality with calling; how they frame the ball in a particular situation. I like to put Jen and Heather together because they do have knowledge of each other, and they work really well.”
Cameron would catch Iseri seven more times, the last coming on Apr. 30 at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
As for Iseri, she finished the season with a 3-4 record and an earned run average of 3.72 with four complete games. She would see time in the circle 14 times, starting eight games. With Cameron catching her, Iseri went 3-3. Her first time in the circle came seven games into the season against Brigham Young University on Feb. 18.
“I definitely had confidence in the two upperclassmen and I knew what my role was from the start,” Iseri said. “It was pretty laid out as to what my role was, which was to back them up.”
Between pitching and playing in left field, Iseri appeared in 22 games, starting 14 times, and batted .196. She scored nine times, drive in three runs and had two doubles.
“I have been told I have the No. 3 best left-handed hitter sitting on my bench out of the California coming out of high school,” Coolen said. “That has been thrown in my face.”
Coolen says that Cameron and Iseri are now going to be the cornerstone and foundation at the same time to help build the UH program and that the positive asset they possess is their atonement not to get down on themselves when they get in an unsuccessful situation
“Both of them are in a place right now where they can develop,” Coolen said. “Right now, they haven’t plateaued in regards to the athleticism in where we want them to go with that athleticism.”
“I didn’t think I was going to start as much as I did,” Cameron said. “But I knew that I would have to work hard like everyone else to get the starting spot. It was a great journey just working hard with everyone. I did progress and I know that I can [progress] more.”
While the sport of softball is played the same from recreation ball all the way to college and beyond, there are some differences between being a senior in high school and a freshman in college. Both Cameron and Iseri talked about self motivation because they are in now in a different setting, over 2,500 miles from home, and away from visual contact with their parents and childhood friends. They had to learn from, and listen to new coaches, new teammates, and of course, new teachers and counselors on the UH campus.
“I learned a lot,” Iseri said. “I learned that it is all the stories that I’ve been told. It’s pretty much your life. Being on the road and travelling all the time and being so consumed with the team…that’s such a big part of being successful. The biggest thing I learned is that your work ethic can never stop.”
“Self motivation is everything,” Cameron said. “My parents aren’t there to push me to study and they’re not there after the practices yelling at me and telling me, ‘you need to perform better’. That’s the coach’s job now. Just learning how to adjust to everything is a big learning curve.”
Cameron added the best part of her freshman season was simply learning the new personalities of the team and getting to know them, especially when the Rainbow Wahine would travel to Las Vegas for a tournament or to California four times for Big West Conference games. She said that travelling brought the team together.
Iseri added that even though she has known her teammates for less than a calendar year, she feels like she has known some of them her whole life.
“All of the fun that we had off the field and on the field…it just makes the experience very worthwhile and memorable,” Iseri said. “I know that some of the girls on the team are going to be my friends for the rest of my life.”
As far as what to expect next season, Cameron, who switched her major to Natural Resources and Environmental Management, is planning on starting more games behind the plate as this past season’s primary catcher, Rachel Lack (31 starts), is going to be on the Australian National Team.
“I’m planning on taking it and going all out with it,” Cameron said. “I’m planning on improving my hitting and every other aspect of my catching.”
Iseri, a business major, says she wants to improve on her confidence and her approach because she feels like those were her stronger assets in the past. She admitted that she didn’t do a great job of transferring that to the college life.
UH will return all three pitchers and Iseri knows what her role will be in the circle. But at the same time, she is willing to work in the outfield so she can get a starting spot there and still be in the pitching rotation if need be.
“I know there are plans of me possibly trying to work at first base as well,” Iseri said. “Whatever it takes for me to get into the starting lineup is what I’ll do. Overall, I want to work on my offense because ultimately that’s what gets you into the game.”
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