POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 5, 2010
The reminders are inescapable.
Three new signs hang on the fence in right-center field at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium commemorating Hawaii's appearances in the NCAA regionals, super regionals and, lastly, its Women's College World Series berth last June.
But for those who return, the period for savoring the memory of their historic spring officially ended yesterday with their first practice of the fall.
"It's important we find a new identity for a new team," junior pitcher Stephanie Ricketts said.
Hawaii's six-week fall schedule is highlighted by an exhibition doubleheader with Christian Brothers University on Oct. 19 and a three-game series with Chaminade, Nov. 5 and 6. The full-team, on-field sessions end with the alumnae game on Nov. 12, when last year's team will be presented with bracelets in honor of their WCWS run at halftime of a basketball game.
While some of the echoes of last season linger, moving forward is the focus of the fall.
"The ones that were in it last year still get the congratulatory wishes, slaps on the back, the high-fives," UH head coach Bob Coolen said. "It's hard because I think they want to put it in the past because it happened last year and we've got a whole new set."
The Wahine return both starting pitchers and the top five hitters from the nation's most prolific offense. Although the Feb. 10 opener against Southern Utah appears relatively distant, the fall can set the tone for the spring.
"(Last year's run) really did start in the fall," said third baseman Melissa Gonzalez, a first-team All-American. "We're working even harder this fall, I think, just because we've got that taste."
Along with Gonzalez, the Wahine lineup features five returning starters who accounted for 103 of UH's NCAA record 158 home runs last season.
"This is a new team and all of us are proud of what we did last year, but it's time to move on," said sophomore center fielder Kelly Majam, the reigning NCAA home run champion.
Majam's eventful offseason included surgery for thyroid cancer and she has radiation treatment scheduled in December. But she's anxious to get back to work over the next few weeks.
"I'm healthy, I'm doing well and I'm excited," Majam said. "I had a little bit of knee issues, but it's fine. I'm going to be in practice and working out with the team. So I'm going. I'm all in."
Shortstop Jessica Iwata, the WAC player of the year, left fielder Alex Aguirre and designated player Jenna Rodriguez also return. Among the top priorities of the fall will be filling vacancies at catcher and the entire right side of the defense.
"Hopefully we did a good job telling the new girls what to expect because we learned a lot last year," said Ricketts, who went 30-10 last season. "We need to transfer that mind-set over and not just leave it with the girls who went on that ride."
UH's regular-season schedule includes six early-season tournaments starting with the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic, Feb. 10-12.
The Wahine will face four teams that reached NCAA super regionals in BYU, California, Oklahoma and Oregon. They host WAC series against Utah State, Nevada, Boise State and New Mexico State. They go on the road to play Fresno State, Louisiana Tech and San Jose State.