Cristen Aona enters her second season as a graduate assistant coach after ending her East Carolina playing career in 2010 by helping the Pirates claim their first Conference USA regular season and tournament titles. She has a broad range of coaching responsibilities, including assisting with the infield and outfield groups as well as with recruiting.
Aona, along with head coach Tracey Kee and associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski, received the 2011 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Mideast Region Coaching Staff-of-the-Year award. The trio guided the Pirates to consecutive NCAA Tournament regional final appearances and Conference USA Tournament championships.
During her initial season in the dugout, Aona helped the Pirates successfully integrate 10 freshmen into the program.
"Anyone who knows Cristen knows she's a diligent worker with a strong desire to make those around her better," Kee said. "Being able to retain her in our program made last season's transition with ten freshmen much easier. Cris' impact as a player was instrumental in our team's success and we are reaping the benefits of her coaching skills as well."
Four of those ECU rookies under Aona's watch were named to the C-USA All-Freshman Team while Jill Jelnick was also selected to the league's second team. Three East Carolina freshmen were also honored as Conference USA All-Tournament Team selections.
Despite their youth, the Pirates still posted the second-best fielding percentage in the conference and finished 22nd nationally.
"Cristen has an uncanny ability to understand every infield position with great detail," Kee added. "She understands our system and our expectations, and has been able to relay that to our student-athletes. Her loyalty to the program and commitment to ECU aids us in our quest as we continue to build a program on the national scene."
While playing for East Carolina, Aona was one of the steadiest and most reliable Pirates. A four-year starter, she appeared in 240 games while making 238 starts, 235 at third base. She ended her career with 160 hits and 29 doubles. Her 14 home runs were good for 10th on the program's all-time list.
As a senior, Aona tallied 35 hits and added 27 runs scored, the fourth-highest totals on the squad. Defensively, she committed just two errors while manning the hot corner and paced ECU with 76 assists. In the Conference USA Tournament Championship game against UCF, Aona scored two runs, including the game-winner. For the year, she batted .400 with the bases loaded and .341 when leading off an inning.
Her junior year Aona drove in 31 runs and posted a .441 slugging percentage, the second-highest marks on the team. She also tied for third on the squad with 43 hits, including a career-high two triples and personal-best six home runs. Her 17 runs batted in during Conference USA games and 11 total multiple-RBI games led the team. In one of the most exciting contests of the season, against rival N.C. State, Aona hit a walk-off, game-winning two-run home run. As a result, she was named the C-USA Hitter-of-the-Week. In her best league series of the year, she hit two-run homers in games one and three at UTEP.
Aona helped the Pirates to their first-ever NCAA Tournament win her sophomore season with a two-run home run in the regional contest against Mississippi Valley State. For the year, she finished tied for second on the team in hits with 58 and produced an eight-game hitting streak. Defensively, she collected a team-best 170 assists, which tied her for the league lead.
Her freshman year, Aona started 54 games and delivered 24 hits and 16 runs batted in with three multi-hit games and four multi-RBI contests. She picked up 80 assists defensively, the second-highest total on the team.
Prior to attending East Carolina, Aona graduated from Punahou High School in Hawai'i, where President Barack Obama went to high school. Punahou also earned national recognition in 2008 and 2009, when it was ranked No. 1 on Sports Illustrated's Best High School Athletics Programs list.
Aona was a four-year letterwinner and three-time all-state selection for the Buff 'n Blue. She helped the program to the Interscholastic League of Hawaii (ILH) title as a junior with a 14-0 record. Aona also lettered twice in basketball, helping her team to league championships in 2005 and 2006 and Division I state championship in 2006.
Aona graduated from East Carolina in December of 2010, earning a bachelor's degree in health education and promotion - pre health, and is working on her master's degree in sports administration.