Inseparable since 7, Heather Cameron and Jennifer Iseri were warned their softball careers would likely diverge after high school.
The duo met on an 8-and-under all-star team in southern California, attended elementary schools across the street from each other, then went to middle school together before moving on to Cerritos High. They remained on the same softball rosters throughout, but the chances of continuing their connection after graduation seemed remote.
“My dad would tell me, ‘Don’t think you guys are going to college together. They’re not going to offer you together.’ And we’re like, ‘aw, man,’” Cameron recalled.
But they were drawn to Hawaii during an eighth-grade trip and both were indeed offered by UH coach Bob Coolen — on the same phone call, no less — as high school freshmen.
Now three years into their collegiate careers, the UH juniors return to their roots this week when the Rainbow Wahine open the Big West season with a three-game series at Long Beach State, about a 15-minute drive from their homes.
“It was almost like we were in awe. We couldn’t believe it was the both of us together,” Iseri said. “It’s like a fairy tale to be able experience all of my softball career with Heather.”
The Wahine emerged from a grueling stretch of nonconference tournaments at 16-13 heading into the series with the No. 18 49ers (26-7). Friday’s single game and Saturday’s doubleheader are scheduled for 10 a.m. Hawaii time.
The series will also be a homecoming for UH shortstop Cheeks Ramos, who grew up in Long Beach and attended Millikan High School.
The Wahine had a week off after closing a run of 17 games in 19 days on March 18, giving them a chance to recharge for seven weekends of Big West play.
“We all kind of agreed that it’s big leagues now,” Cameron said. “And even though everything counted in those past three weeks, this is conference. So it’s a whole different mind-set.”
Cameron has been a regular behind the plate since early in her freshman year. Iseri saw sporadic playing time as a pitcher and outfielder the last two years, but has carved out a role in left field this season and has started the last 12 games.
Iseri hit her first career home run against East Carolina on March 7 and contributed to a run of late-inning heroics when she delivered a game-tying two-run double in the bottom of the seventh against North Dakota on March 16. Rachael Turner followed with an RBI single to give UH its third walk-off win in a four-game stretch.
“The biggest thing for me was when I was standing on second base and I looked over at the dugout and I just saw how happy my teammates were and how happy my coaches were and how loud the fans were,” Iseri said. “I think that really spoke to me the most. That I’m playing for something bigger than just myself. … I think that was a turning point for me. To see that excitement and see the fire in everybody’s eyes and knowing we fought together.”
— Hawaii Softball (@HawaiiSB) March 17, 2018
Cameron has 91 starts over the last three seasons and has shared time at catcher with sophomore Callee Heen the last two. After a shaky debut as a freshman (“I let a ball go between my legs, I couldn’t make a throw,” she recalled.), Cameron settled in to become a steady presence behind the plate and hit .283 last season.
“I didn’t have a great performance my freshman year and I knew I had to come back stronger,” Cameron said. “And it really paid off, everything I had worked on, and it was such a rewarding feeling.”
— Jason Kaneshiro (@jasonkaneshiro) March 16, 2018
Both had a feeling Hawaii would be in their futures when their club team made the trip to play in a tournament on Oahu in eighth grade. They took a tour of the campus during the trip and Iseri and Cameron set UH high on their wish list. So they were fittingly together when Coolen called during their freshman year of high school.
“He was on speaker phone and and we were sitting next to each other in the car and our parents were listening, and he offered us,” Cameron said. “And he was, ‘you guys want to think about it?’ and were like, ‘no, no, we’ll take it.’”
For Iseri and Cameron — who became a decorated pitcher-catcher tandem at Cerritos High — the decision was a no-brainer. Well, maybe a one-brainer.
“Our dads (Craig Cameron and Brian Iseri) tease us that we share a brain,” Jennifer Iseri said. “So if I do something crazy, it’s like, ‘OK, Heather has the whole brain, you need to share it with Jen again.’ I always felt on the field we always had the same connection.”