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BURBANK-- Like most coaches, Kris Kohlmeier has...

BURBANK-- Like most coaches, Kris Kohlmeier has no problem bestowing

praise upon his players.

But when the Glendale High softball coach talks about Heather

Hamasaki, his compliments aren’t just any run-of-the-mill remarks.

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“She’s the best person I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,”

Kohlmeier said of his Lehigh University-bound pitcher.

“If you look up the word ‘humble’ in the dictionary, you’d see a

picture of Heather. The girl wasn’t about records or stats, she was

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about her teammates.”

Kohlmeier’s assessment of his four-year varsity standout -- on the

diamond and off -- is right on the mark, although Hamasaki’s numbers

also spoke volumes about the type of career she enjoyed.

But there was a time, an extremely brief period during her stint

at Glendale, that the 17-year-old daughter of Clay and Laurie

Hamasaki actually expressed a hint of selfishness.

Yes, even the poster child for modesty caught herself -- if only

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for a few moments -- being more focused on her own personal

achievements and gains, instead of those of her teammates.

“I kind of realized it when I didn’t make first team [All-Pacific

League] as a sophomore,” said Hamasaki, who rebounded from knee

surgery five months earlier to return in time to pitch a full season

for the Nitros in 2001.

“But I felt stupid that I was angry that I [wasn’t selected]. It

made me realize that I wasn’t exactly the person I thought I was.

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“Ever since, my focus was on making the team better or making it

to CIF or getting past the first round. I wanted to be someone the

underclassmen looked up to and I wanted to set a great example [for

my teammates].”

And she did so in typical Hamasaki fashion -- with consistency and

efficiency, often dominating the competition, but always remaining

gracious.

Combine that attitude, work ethic and leadership with an

overpowering right arm and a more-than-competent bat, and it allowed

Hamasaki to produce a season worthy of being chosen as the News-Press

All-Area Player of the Year by the writers and editors of the

News-Press and Burbank Leader.

“Wow, that’s a pretty big thing,” Hamasaki said upon learning of

the award.

“But I’m not all that matters. There’s been a lot of people who

have helped me along the way. [That’s why] I really don’t want it to

be all about me.”

*

Whether Hamasaki enjoyed the attention or not, at times this past

season, it was all about her.

From the first game of the regular season -- a four-hit,

14-strikeout performance in a 2-0 win at La Canada -- to the last, a

two-hit, 12-strikeout effort in a 5-0 triumph at Hoover, Hamasaki was

tough to beat, leading the Nitros to a 17-6 record and a second-place

finish in league.

Along the way, she recorded an astounding 240 strikeouts -- versus

just eight walks -- in 133 1/3 innings, posting a 15-5 mark with a 0.95 earned-run average, lifting her career totals to 44-32 with 509

strikeouts and a 1.04 ERA in 536 innings.

“She’s the real deal,” said Kohlmeier, who watched Hamasaki, along

with All-Area first-team honorees Audrey Andrade and Amanda Peek,

compete for the Simi Valley-based Ballistic travel-ball team Friday

through Sunday at a tournament in Fresno, in which the league’s

co-most valuable player pitched in three of seven games.

“She’s so self-driven and watching her, especially this past

weekend, was just incredible. It was textbook Heather.”

But Hamasaki’s prowess -- which has put her in the elite company

of Darleen Anderson and Cyndee Bennett among great Glendale pitchers

-- wasn’t just confined to the circle.

In addition to being proficient on defense -- boasting a .941

career fielding percentage -- Hamasaki hit .412 (35 for 85) with 25

runs scored and 22 runs batted in, striking out just once in 87 plate

appearances. And that total was one more than she had in 84 plate

appearances in 2002.

But as much credit as Kohlmeier gives to his pitcher for elevating

her game the past two seasons into becoming a Division I-caliber

athlete, Hamasaki knows she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all

that she has without the presence of such a supporting coach.

“He’s a big, big reason that the Glendale program is what it is,”

said Hamasaki, who finished with a .357 combined batting average

during her freshman, junior and senior years.

“And people like that don’t come along too often. He had this

presence on the field and it made working for him not seem so bad. He

had this way of making it feel like it always about helping the whole

team and not just yourself.”

*

When Hamasaki stepped into the circle at Crescenta Valley on May

1, not only did she help herself and the rest of her teammates, but

she allowed the Nitro program to earn a big measure of respect.

After being upstaged by league Co-MVP and All-Area first-teamer

Sarah Sherman -- who tossed a no-hitter in CV’s 2-0 victory April 15

at Glendale -- in their first meeting, Hamasaki made sure her last

career outing against the Falcons was her best, allowing only five

hits and striking out 12 to lead Glendale to a 2-1 win in nine

innings, and, in doing so, snap CV’s 55-game league winning streak.

“It was really important to the team, because it was something we

had never done before,” Hamasaki said.

“It took all of us getting together to make something that big

happen and it’s something people will remember for quite some time.

[Winning that game] made it a high point in our season because

they’re a program that everyone wants to beat.”

A high point because of the sacrifices made by Hamasaki and her

teammates to become one of the league’s elite.

“Heather made the personal commitment to be a better pitcher,”

Kohlmeier said.

“After her sophomore year, it made her realize that she needed to

take the necessary steps to get to the next level.

“And to watch her grow from where she was until now is just a

great movie with a wonderful ending.”

Said Hamasaki, who will major in biology at Lehigh: “Ever since my

sophomore year, I’ve worked real hard at not letting things faze me

and I think I’ve gotten pretty good at putting things aside.”

But one thing she hasn’t put aside is her humble nature, even

after starting the 17th annual San Fernando Valley All-Star game and

throwing two scoreless innings for the East squad in an 8-1 loss June

9 at the Glendale Sports Complex.

“I just wanted to give Glendale some credit for what they’ve

done,” said Hamasaki, who, along with Danielle Soule, were the first

Glendale players to compete in the game since Kelley Cook in 1998. “I

wanted to be known as a person who helped make a name for Glendale

and prove that it’s not a third-world country when it comes to

softball. I just wanted to help build up the program.”

The same way it helped build her into the humble, unselfish talent

she is today.

ALL-AREA SECOND TEAM

* Janette Galindo * Burroughs * Junior * Outfielder

All-Foothill League second-team selection recorded 21 hits and 17

runs batted in, helping Indians reach Division I postseason.

* Kim Gilmour * La Canada * Senior * Catcher

Hit .338 with 17 runs scored and 11 RBIs, leading Spartans to

fifth straight Rio Hondo League title. Selected all-league first

team.

* Heather Grossnickle * Crescenta Valley * Junior * Outfielder

Big second half of the season propelled her to All-Pacific League

second-team honors. Hit .323 with 19 runs and 13 RBIs.

* Adrian Herlache * Flintridge Sacred Heart * Senior * Pitcher

Four-year starter earned All-Mission League first-team accolades.

Had 98 strikeouts and a 1.75 earned-run average in 128 1/3 innings.

* Priscilla Lopez * Glendale * Junior * Infielder

One of area’s best leadoff hitters, shortstop earned All-Pacific

League first-team honors. Hit .386 with 28 runs and 14 RBIs.

* Megan Luna * Crescenta Valley * Junior * Outfielder

All-Pacific League first-team selection hit .293 with 13 runs and

17 RBIs. Also had a home run and boasted a .400 slugging percentage.

* Linda Martinez * Hoover * Senior * Infielder

Hit .309 with 23 runs scored, earning All-Pacific League

first-team accolades for Tornadoes. Third baseman also had eight

RBIs.

* Dani Regan * Burroughs * Senior * Pitcher

Three-time All-Area selection posted 12-12 record with 1.62 ERA

and 115 strikeouts. Selected to All-Foothill League first team.

* Val Rico * Burroughs * Junior * Infielder

Hit .378 for Indians, earning her All-Foothill League second-team

honors. Tallied 13 runs, two home runs and 18 RBIs.

* Vanessa Roggia * Glendale * Senior * DH

Had outstanding season, earning her All-Pacific League first-team

recognition. Hit .360 with 13 runs, eight doubles and 22 RBIs.

* Anna Schnitger * Hoover * Junior * Pitcher

Posted 16-7 record with 116 strikeouts and 1.01 ERA in 145

innings. Selected to All-Pacific League first-team roster.

* Courtney Turner * La Canada * Junior * Infielder

Two-sport All-Area honoree was selected to the All-Rio Hondo

League first-team roster. She had 21 hits, 10 runs and 11 RBIs.


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