When the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo’s Kelsey Daguio received word that she had been named the 2011 Pacific West Conference Freshman of the Year for tennis, she was pleasantly surprised. When she was honored with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s Division II West Region Rookie of the Year award a week later, the Waipahu, Hawaiʻi, native was incredulous.
She knew she had completed a solid rookie campaign with the Vulcan women’s tennis team, but she never imagined that coaches in the region regarded her so highly.
“I was speechless,” Daguio said. “I didn’t really know how I won it. But I’m really happy.”
The three-time tennis singles state third-place finisher at Sacred Hearts in Honolulu finished her first season as a UH Hilo Vulcan with an 8–16 singles record and 7–17 doubles mark. She was the team’s No. 1 singles player, meaning she had to compete against other teams’ top singles players as well.
Daguio’s freshman campaign started slowly as she adjusted to the college game and dealt with some nagging injuries. Still, the 4-foot-11 talent practiced hard and kept pushing, determined to see improvement on the court.
Holding the team’s top spot created a lot of pressure, she says. “I wanted to win for the team. There were a few close matches, and I did lose, but it was my freshman year, so I’m still trying to know the game and get used to the college level.”
Her dogged determination came to fruition in the April 21 match against the Academy of Art in California. She faced off against Kunkanda Phukchampa, who had been her nemesis just five days earlier in Hawaiʻi when Phukchampa bested Daguio 6–4, 6–2 in a head-to-head singles match and 8–6 in doubles play.
This time, Daguio jumped out to a 6–4 win in the first set and recovered from a potentially crushing 6–1 loss in the second set to win the deciding set 6–4.
It was a heartening victory over an experienced, quality player.
“Kelsey played the entire season with a ton of heart and with the highest level of sportsmanship,” says Kula Oda, the UH Hilo head tennis coach. “She is a joy to coach, and we are honored to have her in our program.”
Daguio is spending her summer days working on her game, toiling on the courts to improve both her conditioning and her skills. She typically weight trains and runs in the morning, and then spends three to four hours practicing on the tennis court in the afternoon. She has devoted extra hours to her weaknesses—her serve and her backhand.
While the business administration major dreams of one day opening up a restaurant or a tennis academy, her focus is firmly on the next three years as a UH Hilo athlete.
“I can compete at the college level,” she says with determination. “I just have to motivate myself more and practice harder for the rest of my years to come.”