POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 1:48 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2011
Check out the fence. It's the one that the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine knocked so many softballs over last year that UH broke the NCAA record for home runs.
Read the signs on the fence. There are three of them. WAC Champions 2003. WAC Champions 2007. WAC Champions 2010.
Detect a trend?
Bob Coolen sees it.
"All you have to do is look at the wall and see the years we've won," says the longtime Wahine coach, whose team opens its season hosting Southern Utah tomorrow night. "We've been a program in the past that had to rebuild. Hopefully now we're reloading for the next several years. We've been on a roller coaster. We want to stay at the top of the roller coaster and enjoy the view."
The 2010 Wahine went to the Women's College World Series. They were one of UH's best teams ever — in any sport.
Can they build on the momentum and bash their way to Oklahoma City again? Can they win it all?
Star center fielder Kelly Majam says the national championship is a team goal. That's a reasonable and realistic target for a team ranked eighth in the nation headed in. You can't win it if you can't envision it. And let's be clear: Majam isn't predicting a national championship, there's a big difference ... it's the difference between confidence and arrogance.
THE WAHINE earned the right to think big, and with what they have returning the ultimate prize is attainable. They have their top two pitchers back in Stephanie Ricketts and Kaia Parnaby, and they have a fab five of returning sluggers in Majam, shortstop Jessica Iwata, third baseman Melissa Gonzalez, right fielder Jenna Rodriguez and left fielder Alexandra Aguirre that hit 103 of Hawaii's 158 homers. Majam led the nation with 30, as a freshman.
"But we did lose a really good senior class of leaders," Majam acknowledged.
The Wahine also lost their favorite bats because of new NCAA rules. Majam sees it as an opportunity. "We get to show we're good hitters, and it's not just the bats," she said.
THEN THERE'S the question of Majam's health. She's progressing well after surgery to remove her cancerous thyroid last summer and then radiation treatment Dec. 27. "In my head, I feel like I'm 100 percent," Majam said. But she admits to less stamina than at this point last year because her preseason workout schedule was curtailed.
Coolen said Majam's "still regaining her strength," but she's crushing the ball as hard and as far as she did last year. Part of him wants his leadoff hitter to slow down a bit for now, but another part loves the example she's setting. While making his daily rounds after the Super Bowl on Sunday, Coolen found Majam working out by herself in the stadium batting cage.
"In her mind, she thinks she can't have a day off. It's something you wish everyone would aspire to," he said. "But, yes, she has to pace herself."
There are no such expectations for returning non-starters and newcomers battling for a couple of spots that haven't been cemented, and don't expect tomorrow's starting lineup to hold up through the entire season.
Coolen and the Wahine know this is their chance to establish themselves as a consistently great program, to elevate from being a solid program that puts out a great team once every few years.
"It's an anxious time. We don't really know how we're going to handle being that target," Coolen said. "How are our players going to respond to that pressure? Are we going to get frustrated and wear that emotion on our sleeves? Last year's team let it happen, let it unfold. We just have to wait for the emergence of those (new starters)."