I think she’s still scratching the surface. I think it would be tough for her to lead if she wasn’t as talented as she is, and it would be tougher if she didn’t work as hard as she does at her craft. That’s where the respect level comes from. – Head coach Keith Lopati

SALT LAKE CITY — Kirk Ava understood why people suggested he take his talented daughters to a school with a long history of softball success.

Breah and Huntyr Ava showed promise even when they were in elementary school, and there were people who suggested the family should consider sending the girls to a high school with a history of success on the softball field. Their neighborhood school — West High — had never been known as a softball school. In fact, in recent years, the team had struggled just to be competitive in region play.

But the roots the Avas have established in the Rose Park community are not easily dislodged — even by the promises that accompany successful athletic careers.

“We stayed home,” Ava said. “We thought, ‘If we’re going to make a successful program here at West, you’ve got to keep your kids where you live.’ So growing up in Rose Park, I graduated from West, my wife graduated from West, my other daughters graduated from West. … We wanted to win it with our own kids. We felt like if you stay home, you can make a name here at West.”

This spring that loyalty paid off for the Avas and the community they love as the Panthers played their way to a second-place finish in the 5A state softball tournament. Along the way, the rest of the state got to see just how talented the Panthers' young players are, including Kirk’s oldest daughter, Breah, who earned the 2016 Ms. Softball award for her skill, hard work and team-first mentality.

“I felt back then (when Breah and Shayna Alofipo and Rayna Aiono were entering high school) the way I feel now,” said head coach Keith Lopati. “Those three are a special group of girls. This was the foundation of the program.”

Ava said he got his two youngest daughters, Breah, a junior third baseman, and Huntyr, a freshman shortstop, involved in softball because of how well it had treated his own sisters.

“I’m from California, and my sisters played softball,” said Kirk Ava, who admits there weren’t a lot of Polynesians playing softball when he sought an opportunity for his girls in a club program operated in Bountiful. “It’s not weird to me; I grew up around it. My two younger girls, I knew with their body types, they weren’t going to be like my soccer star or basketball stars. So we tried softball.”

The girls loved it immediately.

And while it didn’t involve as much cardio as some sports, Ava made sure his daughters understood the value of quick hands and feet in the sport.

“When you look at them, they have that perception of being big Poly girls,” he said. “I told them, I know because I’m big, my wife was big, and if you look big, you just need to have quick feet.”

Ava described his daughter as “shy, humble and focused. Out of all of my kids, she’s the one who really doesn’t like to take credit. She is a hide-behind-the-scenes type of girl.”

Breah is one of those athletes who lets her on-field effort speak for her.

“She’s not very vocal,” Lopati said. “She’s one who leads through her actions. But I’ve seen her develop as an individual, and I’ve seen her come out of her shell, and that’s been pretty special.”

Her father said she’s always been shy, a trait he said she gets from her mother. His other daughters, he laughed, are like him and much more comfortable in the spotlight.

“Breah is really quiet, but she is very disciplined,” Ava said. “She is really a perfectionist; she doesn’t like to make mistakes. Whatever she does, she puts her heart into it. But she prefers to be the leader behind the scenes.” There is no denying Breah Ava’s talent.

She is deceivingly quick at third base with a cannon for an arm. She led the team offensively with a .626 batting average and 53 RBIs. She had 12 doubles and 15 home runs.

She earned a .800 fielding percentage and has verbally committed to accepting a scholarship at BYU after she graduates in 2017. She loves to draw and sing and is much more comfortable with her younger sister Huntyr, a freshman shortstop, taking the on-field, vocal leadership role.

Lopati said her teammates see her as a leader, even if she’s not the one barking out orders or offering a pep-talk. Their confidence in her comes from her caring and commitment, as well as her talent.

“I think she’s still scratching the surface,” Lopati said of her talent. “I think it would be tough for her to lead if she wasn’t as talented as she is, and it would be tougher if she didn’t work as hard as she does at her craft. That’s where the respect level comes from.”

Email: adonaldson@deseretnews.com

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