Making Her Mark: Howard’s Kenna Higa

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By Rob Knox, Howard Athletics Consultant

WASHINGTON  – Despite the vast distance of over 4,800 miles from Nuʻuanu, Hawai’i to the nation’s capital, Kenna Higa‘s dedication to her culture is inspiring. Her family’s unwavering support is a comforting thought and a tangible presence on the softball field. Her leg tattoo of Hawaiian tribal and family genealogy symbols is not just a design but a living testament to her heritage, a constant reminder of the roots she carries with her, no matter the distance.

She also has a pregame routine that has helped her blossom into one of the best talents in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Higa is in her first year at Howard after transferring from Norfolk State, where she played for her first two years and earned All-MEAC and Rookie of the Year honors. Yet, none of her impressive accolades would be possible without competing in the right frame of mind.

“In Hawaiian culture, before every game, I grab some Hawaiian salt,” Higa said. “I put my positive energy into it first, then put it in my mouth and spread it around. The cleaning ritual gives me positive thoughts and energy for the game. This also serves as a powerful link to my hometown. I touch my leg and remind myself this is why I am here.”

Higa is close to her family. They instilled the foundation of character, competitiveness and determination for success.

A lighthouse that beams with excellence, Higa’s vision extends beyond helping the Howard University softball program win its second MEAC championship in three years. Higa is big-picture focused. She loves her hometown and wants to make a difference when she returns.

“My ultimate goal is to establish a non-profit organization for native Hawaiians,” Higa shares. “I want to give back to the community that has shown me so much love. My aim is to support the less fortunate native Hawaiians and to preserve and promote our rich native Hawaiian culture.”

After all, it is where Higa got started.

Growing up near the historic Pali lookout, a windward cliff of the Koʻolau mountain located at the head of Nuʻuanu Valley on the island of Oʻahu, Higa played volleyball, baseball and soccer. With a sweet swing that is like lightning dancing across the night sky, no one would ever believe watching Higa bat leadoff and play strong defense at either first or third base for the Bison that at one point in her early life, she used to “hate playing softball.”

She had a valid reason.

“My journey in softball began with a love for baseball,” Higa recalls. “I played baseball until eighth grade, but as I looked around, I realized there weren’t many girls playing. I knew if I wanted to continue playing, I would have to switch to softball. As I improved in the sport, my love for it grew.”

It also helped that Higa could participate in competitive leagues, which allowed her to showcase her personality through her colorful and crazy socks. She learned the fundamentals of her game when she played for Manoa for the Bad Girlz. Then, she played for Na Wahine in Honolulu for six seasons. It was nothing but fun from there.

Even though she was enjoying herself and the competition, Higa knew she needed to do something to attract the eyes of college recruiters, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. She became resourceful and it was the best decision she had made.

“I signed up for a recruiting website and my former coach at Norfolk State reached out to me,” Higa recalled. “I knew it was a great opportunity, especially since it was COVID. It opened my eyes that I could play college softball and once I got on the email lists, everything worked out. The Norfolk State coach reached out to me and told me ‘He would love to talk to you about our school and program and what they were trying to do then.”

Higa shined at Norfolk State. With 62 RBIs and 16 home runs in two years as a Spartan, the 2022 MEAC Co-Rookie drove more runners home than Greyhound. As a Spartan, Higa was selected to the All-MEAC First Team each year. A coaching change following Higa’s freshman year accelerated her thought process to transfer. She tried sticking it out as a sophomore, but something was still missing, so she entered the transfer portal.

Higa was initially looking to get closer to home. Technically, Washington, D.C., is closer to Hawai’i than Norfolk. It is only an 81-mile difference, but who is counting or still a three-flight trip across the country and over the Pacific Ocean?

All Higa knows is she is happy and home at the Mecca. A business management major, Higa enjoys contributing to a program record 32-win season. Her talent has seamlessly blended in at Howard, as she batted an average .359 at the conclusion of the regular season and helped push the Bison to a second-place finish in conference rankings.

“When I was transferring, I wanted something different in a school,” Higa said. “I wasn’t expecting to return to the MEAC, but I also knew Howard had a great business program, so my path led me here. It is an honor representing Howard. Coach (Tori Tyson) talks about culture and who we are as women. She always wants us to put our best foot forward and remember the people who came before us.”

One of Higa’s most impactful classes is business orientation. She was part of the 21st Century Advantage Program, a nationally recognized, innovative program in business education fueled by numerous corporate sponsors. Higa was partnered with Boeing and learned to engage in competitive, experience-based learning opportunities. During the course, Higa learned various skills needed to thrive and maneuver the corporate atmosphere.

Away from the field, Higa loves “going through TV shows like candy.” She is always watching something and just finished watching “Game of Thrones,” and “Scandal” and is currently watching “This is Us.” Higa also buys tickets to support local artists, The Green and Maoli, who are from Hawai’i, whenever they are close to Howard’s campus.

Overall, Higa is having a blast. Howard is in the midst of a spectacular season in a competitive conference. She knows her family is proud of her accomplishments on and off the softball field. Whenever she needs to remain grounded, all she can do is look at her leg for inspiration.

“I worked hard to get here,” Higa said. “The tattoo and pregame ritual calm me down. They remind me to be in the present and let all the work you have put into it work for you. I wish I had called my family more, but they understand because they know I have a lot happening here with school and softball. They are a big part of my life. They are my support system and I love them.”

Higa will help HU work for their third MEAC championship title May 8-11 in Norfolk, Virginia. The Bison will kick off their tournament run with a matchup against the Coppin State Eagles May 8 at 6 p.m.

Source: Howard Athletics