Waiakea’s Kunimoto didn’t know the first thing about Idaho State before she visited — but now she’s a proud Bengal

  • Keilyn Kunimoto won a BIIF doubles title as a sophomore at Waiakea, and she claimed the singles crown as a junior. (West Hawaii Today/File Photo)

Idaho State is far from Hilo, but Keilyn Kunimoto found a comfortable fit and signed with the Bengals.

The recent Waiakea graduate is part of the greatest class of tennis players in BIIF history with an unfinished ending, hopefully, to be concluded with a happy ending at Idaho State.

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Maile Brilhante signed with University of Pacific, and Kianna Oda signed with Gonzaga, becoming the first trio to land Division I scholarships.

They grew up together and pushed each other on the tennis court. But it’s time for them to go their separate ways.

The battles between Brilhante and Oda will continue because they’ll be part of the West Coast Conference.

Kunimoto will be off on her own at Idaho State, which doesn’t have any Hawaii players on its roster and plays in the Big Sky Conference.

She wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the Bengals, but she did.

“I went in the beginning of the school year on an official visit,” Kunimoto said. “I didn’t know anything about Idaho State. I had met the coach at the national tournament, and when I visited I loved everything about the place.

“Everything aligned what I was looking for, and I knew that was where I was supposed to be. I genuinely love the coach. She’s so great.”

Gretchen Maloney completed her fifth year at Idaho State. The Bengals went 4-7 in the shortened 2020 season and 9-10 in 2019.

Signing with a Division I school was always the goal for Kunimoto, who will major in biology.

That takes some of the sting of the canceled season and a shot at taking down Punahou for the HHSAA state championship.

“We’ve all worked really, really hard and have been playing since we were super young,” she said. “We wanted this since we were 10 years old to get a Division I full-ride.

“It took a lot of sacrifice and our practice schedules were intense. We’d go to tournaments every month. We were committed and worked hard toward it.”

Kunimoto’s versatility should help her secure a starting spot. She won the BIIF doubles title with Alicia Chun and the BIIF singles title as a junior.

Idaho State is far from a tennis powerhouse. Northern Arizona rules the Big Sky, and in-state rival Idaho usually posts better records.

But picking a college is most often about comfort. Maloney has produced 11 Big Sky All-Academic performers and has coached in the U.S. Professional Tennis Association since 1991.

She develops her players in the two ways parents appreciate. Keith and Jodilyn Kunimoto can take comfort that their daughter is in good hands at Idaho State.

Maloney signed one other player, Megan Lang-Gould, a 5-foot-9 player from British Columbia.

Kunimoto, who’s seven inches shorter, and Lang-Gould share one thing in common, their affection for Maloney.

“I loved the campus and the tennis coach,” Lang-Gould said about signing with Idaho State.

Kunimoto got her start in tennis as a 4-year-old under the guidance of her uncle Randy Kunimoto, who’s in the UHH Hall of Fame.

Kunimoto is ranked as a three-star recruit on the tennisrecruiting.net website and graduated with a 4.136 grade-point average.

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Idaho is known for its potatoes but the official nickname is the Gem State.

The Bengals definitely got a gem in Kunimoto.

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