Kimberlee Souza’s journey to Oklahoma City began with a stop back home.
The ‘Iolani graduate’s sophomore season at Washington started with a trip to Hawaii for a season-opening tournament. She’ll end it on the biggest stage of the college softball season as the Huskies head into the Women’s College World Series this week.
"Every girl growing up playing softball, it’s their dream getting to the college world series," Souza said Tuesday in a phone interview from Oklahoma City. "I watched it almost every year growing up."
Souza is one of four Huskies to start all 58 games this season and played a prominent role in Washington’s 11th WCWS appearance and first since 2010.
The Huskies arrived in Oklahoma City on Saturday after sweeping two games against Missouri in the best-of-three NCAA Super Regionals last week, and open the WCWS on Thursday against Nebraska at 6 a.m. Hawaii time.
"It’s hot like Hawaii, very humid," said Souza, who is making her first visit to Oklahoma. "It’s just a cool environment being able to experience a college world series."
Washington began the season with a 4-2 showing in the Oceanic Time Warner Paradise Classic, splitting two meetings with host Hawaii. After dropping games to UH and UAB — both eventual NCAA tournament qualifiers — the Huskies ended the tournament with wins against the Blazers and Rainbow Wahine on the final day to claim the tourney title.
Even after the Huskies returned to the mainland, Souza maintained a family presence in the stands for much of the season. She said her father Byron, who works for Hawaiian Airlines, attended most of Washington’s home games, and her parents, brother and aunt will make the trip to Oklahoma this week.
Souza helped UW return to the WCWS in hitting .301 while providing a reliable glove at third base for a Washington defense that has allowed two runs and 11 hits in five NCAA tournament games behind the pitching of Kaitlin Inglesby and Bryana Walker.
Souza leads the team with 116 assists and has committed three errors in 173 total chances.
"Dominant pitching and routine defense are what’s going to keep us in games here," Souza said. "We’re all just playing Huskies softball and everything we do we’ve got each other’s back."
Souza, who grew up in Waialua, joined the Washington program coming off three first-team all-state performances at ‘Iolani.
She started all 58 games as a freshman and hit .243 with one home run and 19 RBIs. She elevated her batting average this season while driving in 37 runs and enters the WCWS with seven homers and a team-high 12 doubles. She earned All-Pac 12 honorable mention and NFCA All-Pacific Region second team honors while helping Washington finish in a tie for second in the Pac-12.
Souza said her growing comfort at the college level is an extension of her two summers playing for the California Cruisers.
"The biggest thing was going over and playing in California when I was a junior and senior in high school," she said, "so a lot of the girls I was playing there were a lot of the girls we’re still facing in college."
Washington finished the 2012 Pac-12 season eighth in the nine-team league, but advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals before being swept by California. The Huskies (45-13) were seeded 11th in the 64-team NCAA tournament this year and have gone 5-0 in the NCAA tournament so far, beating Hawaii twice to advance out of the Seattle regional and sweeping last week’s Super Regional at Missouri.
"Every year we talk about getting to the world series," Souza said, "and this year we made it clear we’re getting to the world series no matter what it takes."
Souza played with UH’s Jessica Iwata and Leisha Li‘ili‘i growing up and faced Keiki Carlos in ‘Iolani’s duels with Mid-Pacific. … Souza was among three Hawaii high school graduates to reach the Super Regionals along with Florida State’s Courtney Senas (Mililani) and Oregon’s Karine Shaver (Kamehameha). Florida State was swept by Texas, and Oregon lost to Nebraska in three games. … Oklahoma (51-4) is the tournament’s top seed, led by Keilani Ricketts, the younger sister of former UH standout Stephanie Ricketts. Keilani was named USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year on Tuesday, claiming the honor for the second straight season.