Janalisi Hauolinani Keohohou, although she is known as simply Oli, has sure made her name big in Division I softball.
Highly recruited out of high school, Oli decided to join the young BYU softball program last season. The 5-5 sophomore from Hawai'ian-Samoan roots plays outfield and first base. She shines at the plate and surprised the nation with her statistics and her impact on the young softball program as a freshman.
Keohohou was born in Torrance, Calif., and is the daughter of Gary and Marisa from Hawaii. Her sister enjoyed volleyball while her two brothers played basketball. Oli's parents were very supportive of her athletic accomplishments and gave up many weekends to support her in her efforts. She thanks them for their continued support and gives them a lot of credit for her success.
Now from Newbury Park, Calif., Keohohou was the league MVP in high school and had many scholarship offers to choose from. Brigham Young University, located 700 miles from the nearest beach, wasn't even one of the options she had in mind.
She had three schools in mind with UCLA, Cal-Berkeley and Washington. The Cougar program had been in existence for only a year, and the high altitudes and long winters didn't appeal to the warm-blooded California girl. Keohohou made a recruiting trip out here without any intentions on signing, but after visiting the campus, BYU just seemed right for her.
"When I was narrowing down my decision, BYU had its priorities in place," said Keohohou. "They wanted to develop the spiritual, academic and social aspects in my life. They focus on the athlete becoming a complete person here at BYU."
During her other recruiting trips, softball was everything and left room for nothing else. BYU offered a well-balanced life. Softball was extremely important, but the coaches emphasized the importance of academics, social life and becoming a better person and community leader. Although BYU didn't have the great softball tradition like the other universities, the low-pressure approach appealed to Keohohou.
Low-pressure is the appearance Keohohou also gives as she is very nice and warm on the outside, but she causes nightmares for opposing pitchers. That competitive nature comes in part from her parents. Her father is an assistant high school softball and basketball coach. Oli's mother just completed running her 13th marathon, this time in Tahiti.
Keohohou finished the season first in the nation in two major statistical categories in her freshman season. She won the national batting title with a .458 average and won the slugging title with an amazing .993 percentage (fifth-best in NCAA history). It's like having the strength of Barry Bonds with the precision bat of Ichiro Suzuki combined.
She also ranked in the top 10 in several other statistical categories. Oli finished third in walks with 73, fourth in home runs with 21 and 10th in RBI with 60. She also holds the BYU record for most hits in a game, four against Portland State. Her 21 homers tied for 12th-best in NCAA history (37 is the national record).
Opposing pitchers started intentionally walking Oli 21 times to account for a good portion of her 73 bases on balls (ranks in the top five in NCAA history). Her penchant for homers led one public address announcer to exclaim "Keoho-home run" to the delight of Cougar fans. In this span she had a 19-game hitting streak for 2001.
She hit a pair of home runs against Michigan State and again versus Washington last season. Her two homers helped upset No. 12 Washington and paved the way for BYU's first victory over a ranked team. In the first four games of play this season she has added two more homers, one of which came in upsetting No. 18 Oregon State.
"I just want to try and live up to last year and not play below my expectations for myself," said Keohohou.
Last season, Keohohou helped the Cougars win the Mountain West Conference title in only the program's second year of existence. BYU advanced to the post-season tournament of 64 but was bumped in the first round, losing to Hofstra and 11th-ranked Nebraska at Palo Alto, Calif.
BYU's surprise finish will have the opposition taking more notice of the Cougars this season. Individually, she was named MWC Freshman of the Year, First-Team All-American and was a finalist for the Honda Sports Award, given to the top collegiate player in the country.
"I believe, as a team, we are better than last year," said Keohohou. "I couldn't have accomplished any of this without my great teammates."
The facilities and programs at BYU appeal to many of the athletes, including Keohohou. BYU offers tutoring, great weight lifting facilities and athletic trainers around the clock. The opportunities for the athletes are endless and they are encouraged to follow their academic aspirations.
"BYU doesn't like to do anything second class," said Keohohou. "Take a look at our newly-constructed, awesome stadium in Gail Miller Field." (Gail Miller Field is the fourth largest softball stadium in the country, seating 2,100 fans, and will host the MWC Tournament the end of this season on May 9-11.)
In the off-season, Oli enjoys playing softball on a club team with her high school friends. That team advanced to nationals in Phoenix, Ariz., during the summer months and enjoyed the time traveling together. According to Keohohou, it's just for fun.
Socially, Oli likes living with her athlete roommates, Uila Crabbe and Jackie Bundy from the Cougar volleyball team. They love to support each other by attending home events and cheering on their roommates. In her free time, Oli loves the warm sun of Southern California and Hawaii and enjoys nothing more than the beach. She also likes dancing and is very outgoing.
"Oli has a great sense of humor," said BYU Head Softball Coach Mary Kay Amicone. "She loves to play the game and doesn't let it weigh her down. She is not intimidated of a challenge and is a great clutch player in tough situations."
The expectations are high for the Cougar team this year. They won't surprise many teams because they are no longer the Cinderella team of a season ago. Look for the Cougars to defend their conference title and play far into the postseason.