The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Lafu Malepeai, left fielder and leadoff hitter for the College of San Mateo softball team, has already racked up a number of postseason honors.
The freshman out of South City, who helped the Bulldogs to their first-ever state championship last month, was named Coast Conference Player of the Year. After the Bulldogs swept a pair of regional games from Solano and completed a come-from-behind series win over Sacramento City College in the super regional, Malepeai was named Northern California Player of the Year.
After a star turn in the state championship tournament, culminating with a solo home run in the state title-clinching, 8-1 win over Sierra, Malepeai was named championship tournament MVP.
And to cap off her first season of college ball, Malepeai was named the California Community College Sports Information Association Female Athlete of the Year.
Malepeai becomes the first softball player to earn honor in the award’s 10-year history.
“No surprise. She had a remarkable season,” said CSM head coach Nicole Quigley-Borg, who guided the Bulldogs to a 44-4 mark on the season and the first state title in eight appearances in the state championship tournament.
“I’m going to have to have a serious talk with her, ‘How are you going to top this?’” Quigley-Borg said with a laugh.
Malepeai, who was on a road trip to Los Angeles Friday, said by phone that she had been honored.
“I just found out (Friday) morning. I was like, ‘Wow. We’re still talking about softball?’ I had no clue. I thought it ended at the state tournament,” Malepeai said. “I never expected all these accolades to come along with it. It was a blessing, I guess. Keep faith in what I do and just keep putting in the work.”
It will be hard to top what Malepeai has accomplished in just one season of college ball. Malepeai led the state in home runs with 18 of CSM’s state-leading 49 jacks. She was second in runs scored (60) and slugging percentage (1.062). She finished third in the state in batting average (.531) and RBIs (55), and was eighth in stolen bases, with 27. Her OPS was an off-the-charts 1.618.
Malepeai gave the Bulldogs a threat to start every game as the leadoff hitter and she delivered more often than not.
It was her performance at the state championship tournament that enabled the rest of the state’s softball community to see what Malepeai was all about and she did not disappoint, batting a cool .625 (11 for 18) in five games. She hit two home runs, scored seven times and stole eight bases.
For the entire 10-game postseason — a two-game sweep of Solano in the regional and a 2-1 series win over Sac City in the super regional and five state tournament matches — Malepeai batted .562 (18 for 32) with five home runs and 14 runs scored.
That Malepeai has been a breakout star for CSM softball is a tribute to her overall athletic ability. A three-sport standout at South City, Malepeai was an accomplished basketball player who played softball to stay competitive. In fact, CSM women’s basketball coach Michelle Warner made her pitch for Malepeai to join the Bulldogs basketball team.
“A majority of her (softball) skill comes off instinct,” Esau Faleafine, her softball coach at South City, told the Daily Journal in 2019. “Those are the kind of things you can’t teach.”
Quigley-Borg knew Malepeai was rough around the edges when it came to softball, but she knew that Malepeai had the athletic tools to be successful.
“Watching her in high school, her hand-eye coordination is phenomenal. … She was very green to the game of softball (coming out of high school). She never really played high-caliber softball,” Quigley-Borg said. “But the talent was already there.”
After having her senior year at South City cut short by the COVID cancelation of the spring sports season, Malepeai ended up sitting out 2021 at CSM. Quigley-Borg said the decision was made to grayshirt Malepeai — making her a part-time student that would enable her to practice with the team, but would not start her eligibility clock — because there was uncertainty about how the 2021 season would be handled in relation to COVID and college eligibility.
The Bulldogs ended up going 27-0 in 2021, a season that, ultimately, did not count toward a player’s eligibility and was not officially recorded by the state’s community college athletics governing body, the CCCAA.
“She did not play last year,” Quigley-Borg said. “Before we knew if [the season] was going to count or not, we opted to have her take that year off and focus on education.
“Had we known from the start that the season wouldn’t count, we definitely would have played her.”
Malepeai has always had confidence in her ability and she expected to play well at CSM. But she said there was a definite moment when she knew she could play at the college level.
“It was in the fall when we played against Sac State and I stole (a base) on one the catchers. I just thought, ‘Huh. I just stole a base off a DI catcher. That’s pretty cool.’
“It really was a confidence booster.”
By holding off a year, Malepeai now has another season left with the Bulldogs and the interest in her continuation at the four-year level is building.
“There’s a ton of interest (from four-year programs),” Quigley-Borg said.