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Rickett sisters depart, leaving equipment donation for AS Softball Association

Samoa Bowl IX featured a lot of new sporting events to its weeklong schedule, one of which was the Girls Softball clinic, called the “Ta’alo Malosi” Softball Clinic, hosted by the Ricketts sisters, Samantha, Keilani and Stephanie. When they left island, they not only donated equipment to the territory’s softball association, but also left a wealth of insight or tips into the game that has brought them success, both in their professional as well as personal lives.

The clinic was held at the Tony Solaita Baseball Field and the Tafuna High School gymnasium, and was all about learning from three individuals who have made names for themselves in the sport and are of Samoan descent.

The Ricketts sisters are the granddaughters of the late Lewis and Louisa Ripley Gabbard of Tafuna and Leone. They were born and raised in San Jose California to parents Jeff and Carol Gabbard Ricketts, say they have always expressed an interest in visiting the birth place of both their grandparents.

The Samoa Bowl IX became that opportunity, with not only visiting their grandparents’ birth place, but to learn first hand about their culture and its values — and even more, it also served as a chance give to the community that helps them to identify their heritage — being Samoan.

In an interview with Samoa News, the three reflected on their visit.

For Keilani, “I looked forward each day to working with the girls due to their positive attitude. They are very coachable and willing to learn, there is a lot of potential and the girls are very willing to accept the information they were given.”

She added, “I would recommend the girls keep working on all they learned and try to stay away from bad habits, do more research, on lots of training tips and photos on how to do things on YouTube often done by professional baseball players. Google the names of popular athletes for more information as well.”

Keilani noted that the equipments and gear used by the girls were lacking. “I think the girls should try and get cleats, not just tennis shoes, and they need more trained and dedicated coaches. The girls are not seasoned yet, but with proper practice, they might be ready in a year or two. Girls, continue to practice pitching daily for at least one hour (as she did in high school).”

The 6’2 left handed pitcher was a winning pitcher for the USA team, who won Gold Medal at the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara Mexico. She was a member of the US Women’s National Softball Team who won the 2011 World Cup of Softball. She was named to the 2011 NFCA All-American first team, also to the 2010-2011 All-Big 12 first team selection, and was named the 2010 Big 12 Championship Most Outstanding Player.

She earned the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors numerous times last year, and she still holds Oklahoma University’s single season strike out record of 452 in 2011.

Keilani’s sister, Stephanie, noted how comfortable she was teaching Samoan players, “the girls were so welcoming and they really wanted to be there, not forced like we see a lot of in the states. They are very coachable, and a reminder to them is repetition is key, to practice correct form as they learned. They will not progress if they do not practice.” She mentioned that when she comes back, she wants to see that the girls have advanced their skills, so that they can learn more advanced drills when she comes back.

Stephanie recommends to the girls not to let softball fall on the back burner after they leave. “Keep the momentum going like they do with the Baseball Association.”

She concluded, “I think the girls are very athletic, they have that Samoan natural strength and are physically strong, they just need proper coaching and consistency in their practices to move forward.”

Stephanie is now a Senior at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where she is the star right-handed Pitcher and First Base for UH. She posted a 22 – 11 record and had her best statistical season as a Rainbow Wahine with a single season best ERA (1.58). She played 30 complete games, led UH in 9 shut-outs, and her strike out record sits at 250, while holding opponents to a .193 batting average. She broke former IH All-American Brooke Wilkins’ 16-year career strike out record, and she is now ranked second in the UH record books with 74 wins.

She was named WAC Pitcher of the Week twice last year, as she became the first ever Hawaii pitcher to ever earn two WAC Pitcher of the Year awards. She became just the 12th Rainbow Wahine to earn 2011 Easton All-American honors.

Last but not least, is their sister, Samantha, the oldest of the Ricketts sisters. Samantha is a graduate of University of Oklahoma, with a Masters Degree in Intercollegiate Athletic Admin. She is now an Assistant Coach at Witchita State Kansas.

Her softball career highlights include a 2-time All American status at Oklahoma University. She played for the Sooners from 2006-2009.

Samantha played Professional Softball for Akron Racers in 2009-2010, after she was selected as the 12th overall pick in 2009 to the National Pro Fastpitch Senior Draft. She started in 192 consecutive games as a Sooner, and ended her career as the Big 12 career leader in runs batted in. She currently holds the record at Oklahoma University for single RBI’s (190) and set records for most home runs in 2008 with most career home runs (48). She was a four time All-Big 12 first team selection and two-time academic All-Big 12 first team selection.

In an interview, when they first came on-island for their softball clinic, Samantha said, “the girls are natural athletes, they are very enthusiastic and very eager to learn, they picked up the drills so quickly. All they really need is guidance on the proper techniques, I especially loved it that the older and more experienced girls took time to help the younger ones.”

She emphasized, as did Stephanie, that “I would seriously like to recommend to the girls to practice every day and repetition is key to their game. They can have fun, but be serious about the sport. They need a lot of structure and they need to learn how to hustle.”

The assistant coach mentioned that our local Softball Association needs certified coaches, and “the association should work to get more trained coaches and more parents involved. ASSA also need more dedicated staff that have the passion to be there, to get the girls and parents to help keep up on the field. Those interested in pitching should practice at least 4 times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes each time, try and do drills on their own and not wait for just practices.”

In an effort to leave behind a little of what they taught in their clinics, the Ricketts sisters and their family prepared a 9-minute DVD as a momento of their visit here as well as giving some key tips in pitching, hitting and fielding the ball to hopefully be used to practice long after the sisters have left. 

The DVD can also be seen on YouTube under Softball in the Raw or Samoa Bowl Softball; In addition, they donated ten of the bats they brought down with them for the clinic (value $1000+) with a bat bag, as well as new uniform tops for each of the girls with the logo, “Ta’alo Malosi”, to remember the game.

When asked if they are returning, the sisters said they loved it here and were so happy to finally understand what it means to be Samoan and what the true meaning of Fa’a Samoa is all about. They are looking forward to returning in their off-seasons to continue their work with the girls as well as spread the word for any Samoan Softball player or coach in the states to think about coming back and helping continue to elevate our local girls softball program.