The top five hitters return for a Wahine softball team that is nationally ranked and poised to make a long postseason run
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 09, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 01:48 a.m. HST, Feb 09, 2011
Filling out the lineup card is among Bob Coolen's primary pregame duties.
One of the Hawaii softball coach's biggest tasks last season was getting the Rainbow Wahine hitters to pay no attention to where they appeared on that slip of paper.
"I explained to them, don't look at the beginning lineup one through nine. Look at where you're coming up in the lineup once we start the game," Coolen said. "You're either clearing the table or setting the table.
HAWAII SOFTBALLOceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic
» When: Tomorrow-Saturday
» Where: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium
» TV: Tomorrow's Hawaii game on KFVE
» Radio: Hawaii games on 1420-AM
» Tomorrow: UC Davis vs. Texas State, 4 p.m.; Hawaii vs. Southern Utah, 6.
» Friday: UC Davis vs. Southern Utah, 1 p.m.; Texas State vs. Southern Utah, 3; Hawaii vs. UC Davis, 5; Hawaii vs. Texas State, 7.
» Saturday: No. 2 seed vs. No. 3 seed, 10 a.m.; No. 1 seed vs. No. 4 seed, noon; Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2 p.m.; Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 4.
The Wahine embraced that principle last year on their way to the most productive season in the program's history.
Now the top five hitters who helped power Hawaii's run to the Women's College World Series return, fueling lofty preseason expectations while giving Coolen a solid starting point for tomorrow's season opener against Southern Utah.
While the returning starters bring back some impressive stats, "the key ingredient is going to be the chemistry," Coolen said.
"The key is going to be what the five (returning starters) do at the top to get the bottom contagious like we did last year."
The Wahine, ranked eighth and 13th in the national polls, open the season with five games over the next three days in the Oceanic Time Warner Cable Paradise Classic, which also features Texas State and future Big West rival UC Davis.
Coolen said the top half of the order — with center fielder Kelly Majam leading off, followed by shortstop Jessica Iwata, third baseman Melissa Gonzalez, designated player Jenna Rodriguez and left fielder Alex Aguirre — will remain as it was when the Wahine completed last season in Oklahoma City.
"I think it's good we're all at the front of the lineup," said Gonzalez, one of UH's three seniors. "We've already experienced it and we all know we can go out there and do it and hopefully that confidence will spread through the whole lineup."
The comfort and confidence in the lineup remains a valuable remnant of last spring's record-setting run. But keeping those accomplishments in the past is part of the challenge entering a new season.
"Everyone knows last year is last year and it's already behind us," Rodriguez said. "All we do is focus on each and every game singly. So right now all we're focused on is Thursday."
Majam was the catalyst for the nation's top scoring offense last season with 30 homers while hitting .400. Tomorrow's game will mark another step in her comeback from cancer treatment.
She had surgery to remove her thyroid last summer and continues to regain strength following radiation treatment in December. Majam said she's ready to resume playing although she's had to learn to pace herself more carefully.
"I've been wanting to play for a long time. It's just the physical and mental game I have to build back up after my Christmas break," Majam said.
"I can be very harsh on myself and I have to be patient with my body and wanting it to be 100 percent faster than it is. ... I've been staying on top of it. I'm learning that I am human and I have some setbacks, but I am getting it back and I am ready to play."
Following the returning five, replacing last year's four seniors who provided leadership and punch in the bottom half of the order remains a work in progress.
Freshman Sharla Kliebenstein has solidified her spot behind the plate in place of four-year starter Katie Grimes. She reworked her swing in the fall and came back to hit .500 in the team's first four intrasquad scrimmages this spring.
"I focused more on reaching my hands to the ball," said Kliebenstein, a rare left-handed catcher. "My swing was kind of messed up before. Coach Bob has helped me a lot with breaking everything down."
Other than Kliebenstein, most of the new faces in the lineup are pretty familiar.
Second baseman Dara Pagaduan was a starter for much of the 2009 season and first basemen Sarah Robinson and Makani Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu, both juniors, are vying to establish regular roles in the lineup.
Stephanie Ricketts, the Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the year, will get a chance to contribute to the offense this weekend.
She was initially recruited as a first baseman/designated hitter, but her role at the head of the pitching staff has limited her to seven at-bats in two seasons. But she's given Coolen another option with her performances in batting practice.
"Stephanie's been pounding the ball," Coolen said.