Posted with permission, article and pictures, courtesy of University of Hawaii Hilo
Tokunaga Finds Perfect Fit Athletically and Academically at UH Hilo
Daelenn Tokunaga led Hawai`i Hilo to its first-ever conference soccer title last fall, their first NCAA tournament appearance, and was the school’s first PacWest Player of the Year. Just last week she became UHH’s first PacWest Women’s Soccer Scholar-Athlete of the Year in school history.
Now, add one more accomplishment to the list.
The junior from Oahu was selected by the league’s athletic directors as the Pacific West Conference Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, announced today by the conference office. That is also a first in the UH Hilo record books. Gregoire Diep (men’s soccer) of Azusa Pacific was selected as the Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Baxter Halligan (Baseball, Point Loma) is the Male Athlete of the Year and Anahi Servin (golf, Academy of Art) is the PacWest Female Athlete of the Year.
Tokunaga was chosen from a ballot that included seven other conference scholar-athlete winners, one for each of the PacWest’s eight female sports.
“Nothing that Daelenn accomplishes surprises me anymore,” said her coach Gemen’ne Okamura. “Her desire and drive to compete, to be the best in whatever she does has allowed her to find success on and off the field. She was an instrumental piece of everything we accomplished this year. We are extremely proud of her for receiving this award.”
The Waipahu (Pearl City HS) and University of Hawai`i transfer helped lead the Vulcans to a 12-4 record and their first PacWest title (co-champs with Point Loma). The 5-foot-7 junior led the PacWest and NCAA West Region in scoring. She had 13 goals in 16 contests and also had three assists for 30 total points. Seven of her goals were match-winners.
Tokunaga’s biggest goal of the year was a golden goal against Point Loma to create a tie for first place at the top of the PacWest standings, ending the Sea Lions’ historic winning streak in a 1-0 victory. The Vulcans went on an eight-match winning streak to conclude the regular season and earn a berth into the NCAA West Regional.
Tokunaga has a 3.83 grade point average through the spring semester in her major of Administration of Justice.
Just a few years ago, none of the above would have been possible.
After a brilliant prep career that included being named to the all-state team three times and selected as the OIA Player of the Year for three seasons, Tokunaga was offered a scholarship to the University of Hawai`i–the dream of every school girl soccer player growing up on the islands. She played two seasons at Manoa (2018 & 2019), starting in nearly half of the Rainbow Wahine’s matches, but that wasn’t enough for the goal-setting Tokunaga.
“I didn’t do as well at Manoa as I thought I could,” she said. “I needed a change of scenery and committed to Hilo. I was hungry to prove to everyone that I could be the same goal scorer that I was in high school. I did a ton of work in the off-season to make myself better.”
She got the change she needed on the Big Island and with the town of Hilo.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was a little scary at first because the vibe is so different from Oahu and people told me that there wasn’t much to do,” she recalled. “But I found the beauty to be amazing and the people are so nice. I have already made life-long friends here.”
While COVID slowed her transition to the Big Island in 2020, her teammates and Coach Okamura got their first taste of what she could do during a short spring season in 2021. Soon, in the fall of 2021, the whole Pacific West Conference would know what the Vulcans already knew.
“It has been so satisfying and rewarding to a part of the program’s historic growth and success,” Tokunaga said. “It felt really good to contribute right away. We came together as a team quickly and we all grew more confident as the season went on. The season was so memorable because of course we won, but we also had so much fun in doing so. That made it even better. I think that had a lot to do with why we were so successful.
“All of the success and awards are in no way possible without my teammates. Hopefully we continue that momentum into 2022 and accomplish even greater things.”
Equally important, she found what she needed at UH Hilo off the field as well.
“It is such a great fit for me in terms of athletics, academics and the overall community. Academically, I have excelled here because the classes are smaller and I am not afraid to ask the professors for help. They have been so accessible and very nice, and you don’t find that everywhere.. It has definitely been a great move for me.”