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Wahine Winning Like It’s 2010

Bob Coolen was taking a brisk walk around Manoa, and although dark clouds hung over the valley, there was nothing but sunshine in what his University of Hawaii Wahine softball team had accomplished to start this 2012 season.

“I’ve always dreamed about a start like this,” he says, reflecting on what was 17 straight wins to start the season at the point of our conversation. “We’ve played the great teams that have been undefeated, who have had this kind of success, but this is the first time it’s happened to us. It’s been tremendous fun.”

Coach Coolen

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Coach Coolen confers with Stephanie Rickets. Photos courtesy UH Athletics

The Wahine put their winning ways and national ranking to a severe test this week with the Chevron Spring Fling Tournament at UH Wahine Stadium. With games from Tuesday, March 13, through Saturday, March 17, the Wahine will face nationally ranked powers Texas (Tuesday), CalBerkeley (Thursday) and Texas A&M (Friday), with Marist and Winthrop rounding out the star-studded field Wednesday and Saturday.

“This will be a good showdown for us,” Coolen says. “It will give us a good indicator of where we are. We’ve already beaten ranked teams like DePaul and Florida State, (but) now we have a chance to set ourselves up for the WAC season and for improving our RPI (ratings percentage index) and SOS (strength of schedule).”

Those last two acronyms are every bit as important as ERA and batting average to collegiate coaches. That’s because the higher the RPI and SOS, along with the team’s winning percentage, the numbers will make a huge impact at the time the Wahine are under consideration for the NCAA tournament. Coolen remembers what it was like two years ago when the Wahine won a dream super regional at Alabama and headed to their first-ever trip to the College World Series.

“Two years ago, our team chemistry was incredible,” he says. “Our players really bought into the system.

Last year, we had some players who didn’t buy in, (but) this year we’ve really had buy-in from our seniors and our younger players who want to do well and get back to the NCAAs. Our chemistry and our buyin are excellent.”

He cites pitchers Stephanie Ricketts and Kaia Parnaby for making a big difference for the club this year. “Anytime you can have ERAs under 1.00, you know you’re doing well.”

The veteran head coach also cited outstanding hitting prowess from Jessica Iwata of Kaua’i, who is hitting over .400, and the efforts of a couple of freshmen. “Leisha Li’ili’i out of Castle High and our catcher Kayla Wartner have just been outstanding,” he says.

Add to that list the play of local stars Sarah Robinson, the third baseman from Moanalua, second baseman Dara Pagaduan of Kamehameha, first baseman Maka Duhaylonsod of Mililani and several other outstanding players from around the globe and Hawaii, you can understand why the Wahine have built the foundation for a great season in 2012.

“It’s interesting to see how we’ve taken advantage of situations in each game this year,” he says. “We’ve faced adversity, and the players have accepted it and worked through it.

We’ve faced really good pitchers, we’ve fallen behind and we’ve come back, we’ve taken advantage of miscues by the other team. We’ve even made something happen on dropped third strikes. We’re taking advantage of every situation.”

Hopefully, Coolen will continue to see plenty of sunshine throughout this season. After this week’s big challenges, the Wahine begin WAC play next week against San Jose State. The fun continues all season long at Wahine Stadium.