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BYU’s Huntyr Ava always ready for liftoff

BYU's Huntyr Ava at the plate during game against OSU on March 23, 2024, at Miller Park in Provo.
BYU's Huntyr Ava at the plate during game against OSU on March 23, 2024, at Miller Park in Provo. | Aaron Cornia, BYU Photo

Home plate has been a launch pad for Huntyr Ava since the moment she was introduced to softball. The BYU senior has sent 58 rockets into orbit during five seasons in Provo and she is always looking for more.

“Any home run is such an exhilarating experience,” said Ava, who, in addition to the long balls, has driven in 220 career runs. “It’s like an out-of-body experience. You know you can do it, but when it actually happens, it’s a very positive experience.”

Ava is a lightning rod in Gordon Eakin’s offense. This season, she is batting .421 with 48 hits, including seven home runs and 49 RBI — second most in the Big 12.

“When she is on, she can carry a team,” Eakin said. “She is just a natural hitter.”

Polynesian power

Ava doesn’t remember her first home run, but the Rose Park product will never forget the second, which she smacked in Taylorsville.

“I remember the fence was so tall and when I hit it, the ball went over and landed in a backyard,” Ava said. “It was uncommon to see a girl hit a home run on that field.”

Under the athletic tutelage of her aunts Lelei Salea and Sunshine Aumua, Ava honed her skills and marched them into West High. Not only did she win two state championships, but she also belted a Utah state record 56 home runs.

“I feel like a lot of (my power) is natural born,” said the 2019 Deseret News Ms. Softball award winner. “I think Polynesian girls are naturally gifted with pure strength. I give a lot of credit to being Polynesian.”

No BYU teammate has benefitted more from Ava’s presence in the lineup than Violet Zavodnik, who bats just ahead of her and has 49 career home runs of her own.

“You can’t pitch around Violet to get to Huntyr, so Violet gets better pitches to hit,” Eakin said. “Huntyr is the stability in our lineup.”

Once on base, Zavodnik and the others wait for Ava to make something happen.

“Anytime she gets in the batter’s box she is going to hit the ball hard, whether it’s going to be a home run or an out, she is going to hit it hard,” Zavodnik said. “Everyone should strive to be the kind of hitter she is.”

California cruisers

To Ava’s credit, she put in the work long before becoming Provo’s top power hitter. Prior to her freshman year at West, Ava shifted her summers to suit up for the California Cruisers travel squad.

“The competition level varies from state to state. I was behind in the game,” Ava said. “Playing in California taught me I could hang with the girls who have been in top-caliber leagues. I had to fight for playing time.”

Ava was more than prepared for the West Coast Conference when she signed with the Cougars in 2019. She peppered the league for four seasons and capped BYU’s final run with 16 home runs and 50 RBI to claim WCC Player of the Year honors in 2023.

The Big 12 knew she was coming and welcomed Ava by naming her to the preseason all-conference team. The Cougars (21-16, 4-11 in the Big 12) are coming off three-straight losses at UCF. BYU is at Utah Valley (14-19, 8-5 in the WAC) on Tuesday at 6 p.m. in Orem before playing three games at three-time defending national champion Oklahoma beginning Thursday.

Leading the way

“Huntyr is one of the best leaders I’ve ever had,” said Eakin, who has coached the Cougars for 22 years. “She has been incredible for our team.”

The veteran first baseman, who has only 11 errors in 207 games, said her leadership skills start with her parents.

“That would have to come from the people who raised me. My mom (Corinne) showed me that to be a strong mother is to be a strong leader,” Ava said. “My dad (Kirk) is a natural-born athlete in his family. He showed me the ropes on how to lead in sports. My two aunts (Lelei and Sunshine) are the ones who trained me and showed me how to be a leader behind closed doors.”

Ava graduates from BYU this month with a Family Life degree and hopes to work as a guidance counselor at West and possibly coach softball. Her desire is to give back, and she would be one to listen to.

The big blasts

Of Ava’s 58 home runs at BYU, there are two that stand above the rest.

April 21, 2021: Trailing rival Utah 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Ava ripped a leadoff home run to center field. Martha Epenesa came up next and hit another home run to nearly the same spot as Ava’s and BYU beat the Utes 7-6.

March 29, 2024: Trailing Houston 15-13 in the ninth inning, Ava came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded.

“I feel like a lot of (my power) is natural born. I think Polynesian girls are naturally gifted with pure strength. I give a lot of credit to being Polynesian.”

BYU's Huntyr Ava

“I was telling my teammates beforehand that this is the kind of scenario we would make up in practice,” Ava said. “I was so excited.”

Ava drilled a line drive over the left-field fence for a grand slam and a 17-15 victory. The win also produced BYU’s first series triumph as a member of the Big 12.

“I didn’t think it was high enough to go out, but I knew I hit it pretty solid,” Ava said. “Watching it go over was an out-of-body experience.”

Out of body and out of the park for a hitter who has been out of this world for the Cougars since dominating at West and moving south to a stellar career in Provo.

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar,” available at deseretbook.com.

BYU first baseman Huntyr Ava receives a ball at first base during game against OSU on March 23, 2024. | Aaron Cornia, BYU Photo
BYU first baseman Huntyr Ava receives a ball at first base during game against OSU on March 23, 2024. | Aaron Cornia, BYU Photo