WALLA WALLA - It's safe to say most college athletes are hard workers. Especially at NCAA Division I schools, where competition to even see the field of play can be a fight in-and-of itself.
So to say that Ashley Hamada, a recent grad from Texas Tech University, is a hard worker doesn't really paint the full picture.
Hamada turned in 216 starts over four years for Texas Tech's softball program - good for sixth on the school's all-time starts leaderboard - and was a picture of perfection in the outfield, finishing her final three years without committing a single error.
But that's not all.
During her time at Tech, the 2008 DeSales graduate was also recognized for her academic prowess. Hamada earned 4.0 grade point averages and was named to the Big-12 Conference's all-academic first team over her final three years at school. She was also recognized as her school's female student-athlete of the year after her final season.
The biggest indicator, however, of Hamada's work ethic came from Tech's director of strength and conditioning, Tory Stephens, who couldn't help but rave when the Union-Bulletin contacted him.
"She's by far, hands down, the hardest worker on the team," Stephens said. "Most consistent, best attitude - you know what you're going to get from her every day when she comes on the field. Just an outstanding worker."
In fact, Stephens was so impressed by Hamada, he wanted her to stay at Tech.
"I talked to her about coaching one day, and she said that was what she wanted to do," Stephens said. "I said, ‘Great - let's get you coaching as soon as possible, let's get you in the weight room and get you some experience for down the road.'"
So when Hamada returned from Tech after her team's exit from the Washington regional of the NCAA softball playoffs in May, she spent about a month in town - working out and going to her sister's state softball tournament in Spokane - before returning to Tech to sort out her affairs in preparation for a pursuit of a masters degree in strength and conditioning.
For Hamada, who spent a good amount of time in Tech's weight room and plenty of afternoons running stairs in the university's stadium to get in the best shape possible for softball, strength and conditioning is a natural fit.
"I was always interested in learning about it," Hamada said at her parents' homestead southwest of Walla Walla recently. "With all of the lifts, nutrition, how to get better as an athlete. It was always something I thought about and talked to people about - their careers and how they got to be where they were, and so I just decided to go for it and just try for grad school at least."
It appears Hamada was underselling herself slightly.
"(I'm) very excited (to have her here)," Stephens said. "It's good help that you can depend on. There's not really an interview process for her for me.
"I want people like her on my staff."
The transition from undergrad to grad student likely won't be jarring for Hamada, as she'll be living with three of her former teammates and helping coach her former team in the outfield. It sounded like her biggest fear was just staying occupied after juggling classes and athletics for four years straight.
"Hopefully I'll be staying pretty busy," Hamada said. "I'll be getting up pretty early and doing workouts with teams coming in, then coaching the softball team, and then going to class at 6:30 p.m."
At first glance, a masters in strength and conditioning sounds slightly unnecessary. It's just working out, right?
Not so, Hamada and Stephens said.
When she finishes her studies, Hamada will be qualified to lead the strength program at a major university. And not just for the softball team, but for the entire athletic department, where each sport has its own fitness needs.
"As an athlete you're going through the program, but you don't understand why you're doing it ... ," Stephens said. "Now that she's getting a degree in it, she's going to learn how to write a program and prescribe it for programs - different energy patterns, different teams, etc. - and how to handle coaches and administration. That side of it she won't learn until she gets into the weight room and starts getting her hands dirty."
Hamada, who helped coach youth softball camps during her summers away from Tech, said she was looking forward to give something back to the program.
"I know growing up how much it meant to have someone to look up to," Hamada said, "and it's kind of cool to have kids look up to you and (for you) to be a role model. I'm definitely looking forward to helping other teams get through it (conditioning) and sharing past experiences and stuff like that."
Wa-Hi softball coach Jerry Humphreys never coached Hamada, but he knew of her and invited her to help coach the Blue Mountain Girls Softball Association's softball camps.
"I think it's (being a strength coach) a great fit for her," Humphreys said. "I've always thought of her as going to be a great coach at some point, going into (strength and conditioning) is kind of right up her alley."
Ashley's younger sister Andrea Hamada, who finished a distinguished senior season on Wa-Hi's softball team this past June, said Ashley blazed the trail for her.
"She's been the best role model anyone could ask to look up to, basically," said Andrea, who will play softball at Central Washington University this fall. "No one else could say that their sister went to a DI school, and she kind of laid down the road for me to look up to and follow.
"She has an amazing work ethic that's, like, ‘Wow, how do I compare to that?' Andrea said. "It's just amazing to watch her."
But Hamada took a circuitous route to get to Texas Tech.
She played basketball for DeSales and swam for Wa-Hi, but never played softball for the Irish.
Instead Hamada played select softball with the Northwest American Athletics based in Spokane and practiced with coach Mike Staudenmaier and the Walla Walla Community College softball team.
As such, she didn't get a lot of attention from major colleges, and playing for a DI school was important to Hamada.
NW American Athletics coach JuJu Predisik contacted then-Tech head coach Teresa Wilson and got Hamada a visit to Lubbock in the summer of 2007.
The coaches liked enough of what they saw and offered her a "preferred walk-on" spot on the team. Scholarship space opened up in 2008 and Hamada was given a partial-ride before stepping foot on campus.
But Wilson left the university in October of the same year, and the Red Raiders finished last in the Big-12 under an interim coach in Hamada's freshman year.
As luck would have it, Wilson's permanent replacement, Shanon Hays, took over in 2009 and has since led Tech to three consecutive postseason appearances and Hamada got to be part of the rebuilding process from the ground up.
"It was kind of neat; our class saw a big transition," Hamada said. "Our first year, we only won 15 games. We were last in the Big-12; it wasn't very good. But then we got a new coach for our sophomore year. He brought in a lot of new players, and that year we made the postseason and then made the postseason for the next two years.
"It was nice, looking back, to see how we improved."
Now that Hamada is done with her playing career, don't expect her to get soft, however.
She still works out on a daily basis, but now she gets to build her own plan.
"I think I enjoy running the most," Hamada said. "It's hard, but afterward I feel pretty satisfied."
But she won't give up on weights entirely, and said she is trying to work back into lifting as much as she did while playing.
"I enjoy doing it (working out)," Hamada said. And also for the fitness part of that. As a college athlete, I was pretty fit. And I want to at least maintain a little bit of that.
"I really do enjoy it, though."