Two of Maui’s best female competitors — Kaitlin Smith and Nawai Kaupe — are among the many Division I scholarship athletes wearing their school colors at home these days, where dens and bedrooms are now serving as online classrooms.
Former classmates at Iao Intermediate School in Wailuku, Smith and Kaupe would often beat the boys when they competed as youths. Older now and an ocean apart — Smith at Houston Baptist University and Kaupe at the University of Hawaii at Manoa — the two longtime friends follow each other on social media as they continue to make their mark in their respective sports.
In mid-March the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the college spring sports schedule, forcing the NCAA to cancel all remaining games and events in track and field, women’s softball, men’s volleyball and water polo, golf, tennis, baseball and beach volleyball. The news brought Kaupe home, while Smith chose to stay in Waco, Texas, with friends.
On Monday the NCAA decided to extend the eligibility of spring-sport student- athletes by one year.
“That’s good to know for our seniors,” said Kaupe, 21, the Rainbow Wahine’s starting shortstop, who transferred from Washington last fall. “We’re lucky to only have two seniors.”
The Huskies went to two straight College World Series finals in her first two seasons as the team racked up a combined 103-19 record playing in the powerful Pac-12 Conference.
Kaupe, now a junior, was enjoying an impressive 2020 season with the Rainbow Wahine through 24 games before the new coronavirus upended sports and social activities worldwide. The Maui High School alumna, who was named to the all-state first team as a senior in 2017, was leading Hawaii in hits (25), tied for most home runs (7) and No. 2 in batting with a solid .347 average.
“We went from playing games to no games, to our season is over,” said Kaupe, who last played March 11, when Hawaii lost to Texas Tech and Minnesota, dropping to 9-15 on the season.
Confined to the house last week, Kaupe said via phone that she’s been playing throw-and-catch, otherwise known as “wall ball,” in the patio and hitting off a tee into a net in the driveway.
“When everything first happened, it felt like a joke, and everything that was being said about it (the virus) was a joke and we were going to laugh about it, but we were going to move on and we were going to play tomorrow,” she said. “But of course that’s not what happened, so I’m back at home, I’m working out the best way I can, and I had school online this morning. … This is all so weird.”
Kaupe said a typical day starts with a morning run and ends with a workout with her older brother, Brandon, who was picked in the fourth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft by the New York Mets.
Also attending online classes Tuesday was Smith, a 2017 two-sport all-star at Baldwin High School who remained in Texas after finding out two weeks ago the track and field season at Houston Baptist University was canceled.
“It seems like I’ve been spending a lot more time doing schoolwork since we’ve gone online versus when we went to class, so that’s kind of annoying,” said Smith, who carries a 3.94 grade-point average and is an all-academic Southland Conference honoree.
Smith, 21, is a kinesiology major, while Kaupe, a Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention last year, is pursuing a sociology degree with a minor in Hawaiian studies.
“I’m in offseason mode right now,” said Smith, a junior heptathlete who typically works out twice a week, focusing on two of her seven events at a time. “It sucks that the gyms are closed, so all you really can do is body-weight stuff. I have resistance bands, and that gives my workout a little more variety. But mostly pushups, air squats and running and sprinting outside.”
Like Kaupe, Smith was on fire when her track and field season came to an abrupt halt heading into the outdoor schedule.
At the Southland Conference Indoor Championships, March 1-2, Smith scored 3,896 points to win her second straight pentathlon gold medal, breaking her previous best by nearly 200 points. After opening things up with a third-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.73 seconds, Smith turned out personal bests in the remaining four events: the high jump, clearing 5 feet 6 inches, shot put (36-4), long jump (18-5) and 800-meter run (2:21.41).
“Winning conference was especially the highlight of my indoor season. It was a huge accomplishment for our team,” said Smith, who finished fifth in the seven-event heptathlon in the 2019 conference outdoor championships.
Her personal bests in the heptathlon: 100 hurdles (14.02), high jump (5-6), shot put (37-05), 200 (26.11), long jump (18-7), javelin throw (122-6) and 800 (2:29.24).
“This break should benefit me, so I’m not too bummed out about it,” Smith explained. “I was excited for the outdoor season after the kind of indoor season I had. And my coach is pushing me to qualify for the Olympic trials, and I don’t know if that was in my reach or not. But now that it’s been postponed, I have until next summer.”