Ailana Agbayani Creates Own Legacy After Father's MLB Career
It was 22 years ago last month when Benny Agbayani played in the historic Subway Series for the New York Mets against the New York Yankees.
In Game 3 of the World Series, in front of a raucous home crowd in Queens, N.Y., Agbayani drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning with a line-drive double to left field. It ended up being the only victory in the series for the Mets, and was one of many memorable moments for Agbayani from his successful MLB career. Fast forward to the present day, and Ailana Agbayani, like her father, is making her own memories on the diamond.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Ailana grew up thousands of miles away from many travel ball clubs situated on the mainland. However, a remedy was found. Beginning when she was in sixth grade, and then every weekend when she started high school, she flew to the mainland to play travel softball. Ailana played with the OC Batbusters in California, one of the country's premier softball clubs, and often took the journey by herself, meeting a teammate at the airport.
Then, during her junior year of high school—when the NCAA allows softball players to verbally commit to a Division I program—COVID-19 hit. Unable to play games or have coaches come and watch her play, a new plan had to be made.
“We actually ended up having this virtual showcase camp with the organization that I played with,” said Ailana. “I played travel ball in California, so I flew up every weekend. And so that weekend was a showcase and then (BYU head coach Gordon Eakin) saw me on the virtual live showcase off of his computer and reached out to me the next day.”
With Eakin at the helm of the program since 2003, the Cougars had made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2005 until the streak was snapped this past season. Ailana and the rest of her teammates will look to start a new streak in 2023 and reach the program’s first super regional since 2010.
For Ailana, it didn’t take long for her to feel at home in Provo, Utah. After all, she is used to being away from home.
“I love it,” said Ailana. “I love the atmosphere, everyone is so nice around here. It’s really great.”
The Cougars were an offensive force last season, batting .336 as a team overall. Six players had 10 or more doubles, four players scored 40 or more runs and four players had 50 or more hits. Two of the team's big boppers, Huntyr Ava and Violet Zavodnik, are back this year after combining for 35 home runs and 112 RBIs last season. Senior Chloe Temples, the team leader in strikeouts last season with 140, is also back for another campaign.
BYU is getting the 2021 Hawaii Gatorade Softball Player of the Year and 2019 state champion in Ailana. She was ranked 41st in Softball America’s 2022 Top 100 Recruiting Rankings. In addition, she is not the first member of her family to be a Hawaii Gatorade Softball Player of the Year. Her sister, Aleia Agbayani, who is currently playing for the Cal Golden Bears, won the award in 2019. Both of them played for Benny, who is the softball coach at Iolani High School. Not to be outdone, their mother, Niela Agbayani, played college softball for the University of Hawaii. It all adds up to a family that has a long and successful legacy on the diamond.
“I take a lot of pride in who my parents are and all the sacrifices that they’ve made for us over the years,” said Ailana. “I try to be a person that other people can also look up to because I look up to my parents.”
For this season, one of the mottos for BYU's softball team is, “why not us?” It’s a mentality, according to Ailana, that is about having the confidence to make it to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series. It is also about overcoming being underestimated or counted out, something that Ailana sometimes feels when she steps in the box.
“Compared to my teammates, a lot of them are really tall, especially the infielders,” said Ailana. “They are 5'8'' and above, and I’m one of the shorter ones. I feel like I’m underestimated at first because I’m tiny, but that doesn’t mean anything. So, I love to just show off that even though I’m small, I can still do what everyone else can do.”