OKLAHOMA CITY » Kelly Majam was still mulling her college choices when she caught a Hawaii game on TV during the 2007 NCAA tournament.
The Rainbow Wahine were in the midst of a run that ended one win short of a trip to the Women’s College World Series, and the appearance helped point the high school standout toward the islands.
Now a UH freshman, Majam was among the catalysts for the most powerful offense in NCAA history as the Rainbow Wahine further enhanced their profile both at home and nationally with a stirring journey to Oklahoma City.
"One of the things I was looking for was a team that would be able to get here that was a good D-I school, and seeing them on TV helped influence my decision," Majam said after Saturday’s loss to Arizona to end Hawaii’s first appearance in the Women’s College World Series.
"(This year’s run) will help other girls who are out here and see us play on TV, see that this team is legitimate and we get to the big show. So I think it’ll definitely help the program."
Never before had Hawaii been able to "play out the calendar," as head coach Bob Coolen put it, extending the season to the very end of the schedule printed out at the beginning of each spring.
The Wahine, picked third in the preseason Western Athletic Conference poll, were shut out in two of their first three games of the season before embarking on a season-long power surge that finally ended with an NCAA record 158 home runs and a 50-16 season.
* — NCAA/WAC record
They blitzed to the WAC regular-season and tournament titles, then swept through the Stanford regional before stunning top-seeded Alabama in the super regional on a Jenna Rodriguez walk-off homer that immediately took a prominent place in UH lore.
Upon arriving in Oklahoma City, the Wahine quickly became a fan favorite in beating Missouri on Traci Yoshikawa’s seventh-inning homer. Hawaii then fell to UCLA and Arizona, two of the most successful programs in WCWS history. The Bruins and Wildcats meet in the championship series beginning today.
Even as he savored the moments along the way, Coolen saw the potential effects this year’s team may have on the program’s future.
"I think we’ve opened the eyes of a lot of young ladies at home who now want to stay home," Coolen said upon completing his 19th season as head coach.
"I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails. I’ve been responding to the ones I can respond to. I’ve been very pleased with what we’re getting as far as the accolades from all over the country and just the recruits who have started to look at us as a power to reckon with and that bodes well for us."
Providing optimism for the immediate future will be the return of the top five hitters in the lineup and the entire pitching staff next spring.
Majam ended her freshman season leading the nation with 30 home runs while hitting .400. Third baseman Melissa Gonzalez, a first-team All-American, ended at .394 and 25 homers.
Freshman shortstop Jessica Iwata (.367, 18 HR) was named WAC player of the year and Rodriguez finished at .377 with 17 homers. Sophomore left fielder Alex Aguirre (.311, 13 HR) ended strong with two homers in the WCWS.
WAC pitcher of the year Stephanie Ricketts (30-10, 2.59) carried the bulk of the pitching load, while freshman Kaia Parnaby (19-6, 3.08) struck out 193 in 172 2/3 innings.
"These guys are going to be back here next year," senior first baseman Amanda Tauali’i said before leaving ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. "These kids are young. So you’re going to see these names for a long time to come."
Tauali’i was part of a senior class that bracketed its four-year run with the super regional appearance in 2007 and last week’s berth in the WCWS.
Coolen will have to replace the right side of the defense with the departures of Tauali’i, Yoshikawa and right fielder Kanani Pu’u-Warren.
"We are a really close team," Yoshikawa said. "We had pretty much no drama at all. We backed each other every single time. We had fun playing the game of softball."
Catcher Katie Grimes was a fixture behind the plate for most of that span and was among four players to start every game this season.
"I’m definitely feeling it, I’ve been feeling it for a while," Grimes said as the Wahine packed up one more time yesterday to begin their journey back to Hawaii.
"I just battled through it and tried to put it out of my mind when I went on the field. There’s nothing that was going to keep me off that field."
ONE MORE TRIP
Most of the team is scheduled to arrive back in Honolulu this afternoon. Seven players traveled from Oklahoma City to California yesterday. The rest were to bus to Tulsa yesterday and split among three flights back to Honolulu today.
They are scheduled to regroup at Honolulu International Airport around 3:15 p.m.