Kate Tokuhara was clearly relishing this moment.
Guarded by teammate Jasmine Dixon near the halfcourt line, Tokuhara, a redshirt junior guard on the Cal State Bakersfield women's basketball team, flashed an ear-to-ear grin as she repeatedly dribbled between her legs, sized up her teammate and prepared to attack the basket during the early portion of the Oct. 22 Blue-Gold Scrimmage.
The smile stayed plastered on her face as she dribbled past Dixon for an easy basket, the first she's scored since Nov. 24 of last year.
While the light-hearted scrimmage was a fun, happy affair for most everyone on the Roadrunner roster, it held special significance for Tokuhara, who in the span of 10 months endured three major surgeries and a serious health scare for a family member, a stretch that proved daunting for the Lawndale native.
"I was pretty down for quite awhile," she said. "Everything really took a toll on me."
The hardships began just weeks before the start of the 2018-19 season, when Tokuhara's mother Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Hoping basketball would provide an escape from the stress of her personal life, Tokuhara was instead done in by a persistent medical issue that's plagued her since middle school.
A standout player at Bishop Alemany High School, Tokuhara immediately proved to be a solid addition to the Roadrunner roster, starting 53 of 60 games in her first two seasons at CSUB. But her success came at a cost, as a string of ankle injuries began affecting her both on and off the court.
"There were times where I'd be walking to my car and my ankle would twist and I'd fall," she said. "I had pain walking around, pain playing. I would play with braces and tape and I would still twist my ankle."
Tokuhara tried to push through, starting four of the Roadrunners' first five games last season. But the pain in her left ankle became so severe she elected to have season-ending surgery.
A planned return to the court in April was then derailed when it was determined her right ankle would also need to be surgically repaired.
After working through another grueling rehab, Tokuhara was ready to again take the court with her teammates during a scheduled trip to Puerto Rico in August.
That wasn't meant to be. Feeling a pain in her side for roughly a week, Tokuhara went to the hospital, where she was immediately admitted and told she needed an emergency appendectomy, which would sideline her for another eight weeks.
Laid up in bed in the hallway of a hospital so crowded it didn't have any available rooms, Tokuhara admits there was a time when this latest medical hardship would have been a spirit breaker. Luckily, she had discovered a strong source of inspiration.
While home for winter break last December, Tokuhara says she was blown away by her mother Mary, who seemed to show no fear in the face of the cancer diagnosis she'd been given just two months earlier.
"I just felt like I'd seen so many people go through breast cancer that I just felt like I was going to be OK for some reason," Mary said. "I don't know why."
Her confidence proved to be well-placed. As of July 30, Mary is cancer free, and the steely resolve she displayed throughout her treatment clearly had a positive impact on her daughter.
"The fact that she was so strong made me strong as well," Kate said.
Cleared to return to practice one week before the Blue-Gold Scrimmage, Kate is still attempting to get back to full strength. CSUB coach Greg McCall says she looks to be "around 80 percent right now and slowly but surely coming back."
Whether it's as a starter or reserve, McCall expects Tokuhara will have a big roll with the Roadrunners when she returns to game action.
"She's been like a backbone for our whole entire scheme on defense," McCall said. "(We also missed) her ability to be able to knock down open shots. We're excited about having her back this year."
Barring any setbacks, Tokuhara will make her regular season return Tuesday, when the Roadrunners host Dominguez Hills at 5 p.m.
Once back on the court, Tokuhara expects the smile she played with during the Oct. 22 scrimmage will remain with her the entire season.
"My mindset's a lot more positive now," she said. "I'm a lot more motivated just to be better every day."