Robert Iamurri cast a wide net as he recruited players to be on the first softball team in Florida Southwestern State history.
In December 2014, the new coach received commitments from two New Zealand natives — pitcher Courtney Gettins and catcher Kayla Rangiawha — giving the junior college team a talented battery for its 2016 debut.
Not long after that, Iamurri received a call from Courtney’s father, New Zealand national team coach Kevin Gettins. He wanted to know if the Buccaneers were interested in adding another New Zealander, infielder Mikayla Werahiko.
“I heard Mikayla was raw, but a very talented athlete and a hard worker,” Iamurri said. “I said, ‘What the heck, I’m already taking two, I might as well take three.'”
Werahiko was apprehensive when Gettins first suggested she go to the U.S. for softball, but she was willing to take a risk, so she decided to join the Buccaneers.
“What got me to push myself to move over to the states was that I had two other New Zealander girls with me,” Werahiko said. “If I struggled in school or in life I knew I would always have them there.”
Werahiko thrived over her two seasons with the Buccaneers. While adjusting to her new home, she hit .370, driving in 83 runs and stealing 92 bases, catching the attention of Maryland softball coach Julie Wright, who offered her a spot with the Terps.
In her one year of eligibility in College Park this season, Werahiko was a steady presence at shortstop in the Terps’ lineup, one of three players to play in every game.
“I thought I would have the two years and then go home,” Werahiko said. “When I came on my visit to Maryland, I spent the night with the girls on the team and they were welcoming and it felt like home.”
While the Buccaneers coaches were thankful for the production Werahiko brought to the squad, they were puzzled by her nickname. When she played in New Zealand, she was known as “fatty,” and in an effort to make her feel comfortable, her teammates continued that tradition.
Iamurri and his staff had qualms with the name and attempted to change it to “fetty,” but it didn’t disturb Werahiko. It’s the name she was raised with, and one she embraces.
By the time she got to Maryland, all of Werahiko’s teammates called her “Mik.” However, back at home, she prefers to be called her nickname, because if hearing her full name is often a sign of bad news.
“Whenever I get in trouble with my mom is the only time she uses my full name,” Werahiko said. “She’ll usually call me ‘Fatty,’ and when she says ‘Mikayla’ I know I’m in trouble.”
Werahiko’s varied nicknames facilitated her adjustment to college softball, helping her to become a consistent contributor in Iamurri’s, and eventually Wright’s, lineups.
‘An impressive young lady’
Werahiko’s athleticism and eye-popping stats at Florida Southwestern earned her a chance at the Division I program, and upon meeting Werahiko, Wright grew fond of her personality, athleticism and ability to keep opposing defenses guessing.
“Great teammate [and she] had a lot of international experience, which bodes well for her on the field,” Wright said. “Just an impressive young lady.”
At Maryland, Werahiko quickly connected with her middle infield partner, second baseman Skylynne Ellazar, who hosted Werahiko on her official visit. Werahiko’s style of play and accent entertained the Hawaii native, who was able to relate to playing far from home.
The middle infielders anchored an infield that turned 11 double plays, helping guide Maryland to a spot in the Big Ten tournament.
“She brings a lot of international experience,” Ellazar said. “Getting to play next to her, she says things a little different, does things a little different but it’s been really fun.”
Ellazar and Werahiko are the lone Terps who have played at the international level. Ellazar played for the Philippines national team, while Werahiko has been a mainstay in the New Zealand program.
Wright said the international experience has helped her middle infielders hold their own against top-flight competition. Ellazar led the team with a .325 average this season, and Werahiko was fifth with a .312 on-base percentage.
“Pitching is so good at the international level,” Wright said. “They are faced with so many challenges … that just forces them to become better players.”
Werahiko’s development in the U.S. has helped her improve her skills while playing for the New Zealand national team. Gettins named Werahiko to New Zealand’s preliminary roster for the 2018 Women’s Softball World Championships, which will take place in Japan in August.
Gettins said the Big Ten competition she faced with the Terps will be valuable for his national club. Werahiko is also a versatile defender, with the ability to play shortstop, third base and outfield.
“She’s got softball smarts,” Gettins said. “To top it all off, Mikayla’s a good person who fits in with the team very well and she’s competitive.”
While Werahiko was a consistent presence on a young Maryland team, she hit just .204 and made the second-most errors (19) on the team.
After a strong start to the year, Werahiko slumped badly in April, with just two hits in 32 at-bats. By the end of the month, her average had plummeted from .262 to .196.
“When she’s on time and using her legs, she’s really good,” Wright said. “When she gets off in her timing and is passive with her legs, she’s going to struggle.”
Still, Werahiko’s impact was felt during Maryland’s most successful season since 2015. On Feb. 23, she went 2-for-3 with two doubles, a run scored and an RBI to help the Terps beat Iowa State 9-5. In Maryland’s 5-2 win against Iowa on March 31, she went 2-for-3, scoring two runs and recording a stolen base from the leadoff spot.
“I look brilliant putting her in the one spot,” Wright said after beating the Hawkeyes. “I’ve been watching her at-bats the last two weekends and she’s been doing better and better. I’m super excited to see her flourishing.”
While Maryland knew there was a chance Werahiko could return for another season, the NCAA ruled her first season in College Park would be her last because of the nature of her transition from New Zealand.
However, Werahiko will remain around the program next season, using her international experience to assist Maryland’s development and help any future international recruits get acclimated and produce.
“The moments that we have together as a team inspires me and watching other people succeed as well brings a lot,” Werahiko said.