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Former Gahr softball slugger Kumiyama recovers from high school injury in typical fashion

 

FORMER GAHR HIGH standout Alyssa Kumiyama, who now attends the University of South Carolina, connects on one of her 28 hits this past season. Kumiyama also smashed 10 home runs as a freshman for the Gamecocks.

 

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

Alyssa Kumiyama grew up dreaming about playing college softball and more specifically, playing in the Southeastern Conference, regarded as one of the best in the NCAA. Of course, education comes first for the former Gahr High standout and she wanted to go to a great school for that and softball.

But as Kumiyama was sliding into second base against La Mirada High in the championship game of the La Mirada Showcase on Apr. 30, 2017, her cleat got stuck in the dirt, went down to the ground and tore her right ACL She had surgery on May 1 and would miss the final eight games of the season. Gahr won the first 26 games her senior season before falling to St. Lucy’s High in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs for the lone loss of that campaign. Her dreams for a banner freshman season in college were slightly detoured. Or so she thought.

“Once it happened, I was like, ‘oh shoot, I’m leaving here in a couple of months to go play in the SEC’,” Kumiyama remembered saying. “But I knew they had great trainers over there, so I knew they could get me back before [the] season [started]. And, I had already talked to our coach and she told us about all the rehab facilities and all the great things that they were going to do to hopefully get me there by spring.

“I was a little worried because shoot, I got this scholarship and now I’m not going to be able to use it for a year,” she continued. “So, it was kind of like stressful a little bit, but as soon as I got here and I started working out with our trainers, it was a little bit better and I was like, ‘okay, I will be ready for the spring’.”

“So close to graduating,” recalled Chris Kumiyama, Alyssa’s father on his first reaction to seeing her go down with the injury. “Just to recover and if she’ll make it back or if they’re going to have to redshirt her and all that stuff going in…who’s going to call the coach and tell her? Let’s wait until after we get back from the doctor before we say anything. There’s just a lot of apprehension right after it happened.”

To say that Kumiyama bounced back to have the freshman season she dreamed of is an understatement. Not only was she ready for opening day and played in nearly all the games, but she did so in typical fashion that had made her one of the most feared hitters in the history of the Gahr program. Kumiyama played in 58 of the 66 games for the Gamecocks, starting 36 of them and batted .235. While the average may seem a bit down, consider this: 15 of her 28 hits went for extra bases, including 10 home runs, which was tied for second on the team. She also drove in 38 runs, which was fourth best on the team.

But when it came time for her first collegiate game, which happed to be the second South Carolina game, Kumiyama did what she does the best-hit a home run. It came on Feb. 9 against Hofstra University with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning. The blast gave South Carolina some insurance as it went on for a 4-2 victory. She said the home run was ‘eye-opening’.

“I was kind of nervous,” Kumiyama said. “It was my first college game and the pitcher we had faced was known for [pitching] inside. For those who know me, I’m a great outside hitter, and I can hit inside as well. She was faster; I really hadn’t seen that fast of pitching in a while. But I knew that if I got the job done, and do what I was supposed to, then I couldn’t go home upset.

“People tell me the best home runs are the ones you don’t remember,” she continued. “And that is one that I really do not remember.”

“She had just got cleared that week 100 percent,” Chris Kumiyama said. “But she wasn’t 100 percent mentally and physically-wise. I’ve watched her play and I know where she should be.”

Kumiyama, who is majoring in exercise science, which is like physical therapy, batted anywhere from .494 to .564 in her four seasons at Gahr, which ranked either first or second in hitting each season. As a freshman at Gahr, she belted 11 home runs, which was tied for first, and was in the top three in hits (36) and runs batted in (35) that season.

When she graduated, she held the school career record for the highest batting average (.483), hits (136), home runs (29) and RBI (114). Kumiyama has also been the HMG-Community News Player of the Year three times, including sharing that honor with Gahr teammate Celeste Gonzalez as a freshman.

Kumiyama said that when it came to choosing her college institution, she wanted to make sure that after softball, she wanted to be in the best spot possible to succeed in life

“South Carolina for me was definitely one of those schools where I was like, ‘okay, I will definitely succeed here,” she said.

Unable to play in the fall, Kumiyama still found herself in the dugout doing rehab in between innings while head coach Beverly Smith would have little conversations with the team. Kumiyama would also keep track of the pitch count and relaying other information to the players. As the regular season grew closer, she knew she wasn’t going to be in the starting lineup or the first to play as much as she wanted to because she missed playing in the fall.

The Kumiyama family moved to South Carolina shortly after Alyssa’s graduation but had been building their house months before that. Chris recalls how tough it was once they got settled into their new house in Lexington, SC, less than 25 minutes from the Columbia campus. But then to see their daughter still be able to help out in other ways other than playing was a huge relief.

“I think that was great for her and it was great for us as a family,” he said. “It’s hard when your kid is not playing, especially when you move and you wait six years to watch her play [in college]. To be part of the dugout…if she wasn’t cleared yet during the fall season, we still didn’t get the 100 percent if she was going to play during the spring. So, for our concern, is she going to redshirt? Is she not? Nobody really knew until the last week before she was ready.”

But when she would finally get her chance, she knew she would have to step up and do her job, even if it meant getting a sacrifice fly or putting down a bunt here or there.

“Just moving runners and scoring runs was where I kind of envisioned for myself and making sure that I got my job done when I was given the opportunity,” Kumiyama said. “But I wasn’t really expecting to be in the lineup at first.

“I guess the motivation was [hearing], ‘we need you, we need your bat in the lineup, you’re going to be a great asset to the team’,” Kumiyama later recalled of the fall and winter months. “But my teammates were pushing me every day. It was really my teammates that helped me out a lot and helped me through the tough times.”

The 10 home runs Kumiyama hit this past season currently ranks tied for fifth place for a single season at South Carolina. The school record is 33, set by Alaynie Page (2013-2016) and McKenna Hughes (2004-2007). At the rate she is going, Kumiyama would not only break the record, but smash it.

“There were some times where I was like, ‘I cannot get the ball to leave the yard’ or ‘I cannot get a hit’,” Kumiyama remembers. “But I knew I was going to go in there and we have this thing-do damage. For me, if I was going to go in the box thinking I’m going to do damage, I knew home runs were going to happen.

“Home runs are going to come and yeah, I love home runs,” Kumiyama continued. “It’s one of the best things to get to jog it out and seeing your teammates at home plate. But it’s the little things that get the job done, moving runners, scoring runs on a sac fly. I love hitting home runs; don’t get me wrong. But it’s the little things that build champions.”

The Gamecocks, who began the season 20-1 and 28-4, finished 49-17 overall, 15-9 in the tough SEC and finished in third place, five games behind first place University of Florida. South Carolina was seeded ninth when the field of 64 brackets were released and hosted a regional in which it won three straight games in the loser’s bracket. The Gamecocks would then travel to Tempe, AZ where they fell to eighth-seeded Arizona State University twice in the Super Regionals.

“SEC softball…really, you have to show up every game,” Kumiyama said. “It doesn’t matter if the team you’re playing is in last place. It doesn’t matter. They’re good enough to win on any given day. I think that’s what sets the SEC apart. You have to play your ‘A’ game every single day. And if you’re not, then you’re going to get beat. I think the SEC sets the standard of hard work, determination and pride.”

Kumiyama listed Texas A&M as her worst SEC location to face on the road because the crowd was ‘pretty rough’, according to her. She said the student body, called the Sugar Daddies, sit behind home plate and they know everyone by name and are not afraid to heckle opposing players when they’re in the box or on the field or walking up to the gate. On the other hand, her favorite road venue to visit in the conference was the University of Missouri.

Kumiyama says she is at 100 percent now but thinks her knee could get a little stronger. And if she has even the same, or a better sophomore campaign, then look for the Gamecocks, whose 49 victories were the most since 1999, to do bigger and better things.

“It was everything that I dreamed and hoped, and it was definitely harder than I thought it was going to be,” Kumiyama said of the season. “But it’s just the freshman experiencing; the total eye-opening. And overall, it was a great experience to see what the SEC is all about and see all the great competition we get to face. It’s just amazing; I just can’t believe it’s happening.”

 

 

 

 

 

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