Ten years ago, Alexis Funaki (sophomore) was too afraid to ask her first softball coach to let her pitch. Since then, things have changed quite a bit. Funaki has not only excelled in pitching for the women’s softball program, but also has been a key player on both sides of the field. The ace from Encinitas, Calif. is leading the Tigers in strikeouts with 22 so far this season and has the second best earned run average (ERA) in the league at 1.58.
“For years I pitched by myself in my backyard with my grandma and my dad,” Funaki said. “Finally, in my third season playing I asked if I could be a pitcher, and they [my coaches] were really surprised that I knew what I was doing.”
While Funaki has been instrumental in pitching for the tigers, she is also one of the team’s best hitters. Funaki is tied for first in runs batted in (RBI) with 6 so far this season, and has one of the highest on-base percentages at .438. When Alexis is not hitting doubles or pitching on the mound, she plays third base, adapting to play wherever her coach needs her.
Although Funaki has been previously recognized for undeniable talent, it is her composure on the field and her mental toughness that constantly impresses head coach Ali Haehnel.
“Alexis stays calm under pressure. She is always poised no matter the situation,” Haehnel said. “When Alexis is in the circle we know we can compete with anyone because she is so mentally tough and a relentless competitor. She helps keep our team loose and positive and she is always smiling — even when she is competing.”
Funaki’s overall effort and discipline has been a crucial example for the team, according to catcher Bailey Stevens (sophomore).
“Alexis is one of the strongest pitchers I have ever caught for. She provides strong consistency for our team, on and off the field. She is also so positive, and so flexible,” Stevens said via email. “She will play third the first game and then pitch the next game without hesitation.”
As a pitcher, Funaki has to do extra work behind the scenes to stay healthy and prepared. Besides the multiple lifts and practices the softball team has every week, she comes to practice early every day to throw bullpen, which includes practicing her spin and staying loose to prepare for their weekend games.
“Alexis is one the hardest workers on the team,” Natalie Glover (sophomore) said. “Her hustle is outstanding, and she never complains about being thrown into any situation. Whether she is knocking ground balls down at third base or striking people out, she is ready for any challenge coming her way, something I admire so much.”
While Funaki has been fantastic for the Tigers thus far this season, she attributes her success to the boost in confidence that comes from trusting her ability as a player.
“Last year was my first season playing in college which is always scary. I think that with more practice comes more confidence playing at this level,” Funaki said.
Funaki studies psychology at Occidental — a topic that she has been passionate about since high school.
“I loved learning about the reasons why we experience certain phenomenon, why we all behave a certain predictable way, and how our environment influences every single thing that we do,” Funaki said via email. “ I also think it’s just amazing how interconnected and efficient the systems within our brain and body are, and how those systems contribute to our everyday behaviors.”
Funaki credits her teammates with a large portion of her own success as well as the team’s growth so far this season.
“Our entire team has a tremendous amount of potential,” Haehnel said via email. “We have proven that we can compete with the best in the SCIAC and nationally. I know our team believes in our talent and the team works very hard, so coming up with crucial wins and earning a spot in the SCIAC tournament are very realistic goals we are seeking to achieve.”
Funaki and the rest of the Tigers are looking to feed off their victory last weekend against Cal Lutheran when they welcome Pomona-Pitzer to Bell Field on Saturday.