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Happy returns for Hawaii softball team

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    University of Hawaii softball player Kanani Pu'u-Warren got a welcome-home hug from fan Mei Ling Chun upon the team's return yesterday after 29 days on the road.
    The Rainbow Wahine softball team returns to Hawaii after a record-setting season and the school’s first berth in the Women’s College World Series.

The round trip between Hawaii and Cloud Nine apparently is 11,259 miles.

After 29 days, 15 airports, seven hotels and four postseason tournaments, the Hawaii softball team made a satisfying – and exhaustive – return to Honolulu yesterday afternoon.

"Finally," third baseman Melissa Gonzalez said as she walked into Honolulu Airport’s baggage-claim area. "I was so excited when we landed, just to be back in Hawaii. This is the one airport we finally recognized. It’s been too long."

All but seven Rainbow Wahine made the trip back from the program’s first appearance in the Women’s College World Series. They went 1-2 in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament in Oklahoma City

Gonzalez, who was raised in California, opted to spend the summer in Manoa.

"I could go home, but I’ll see my family at the end of the summer," Gonzalez said. "I really wanted to be in Hawaii, and enjoy the summertime here."

Catcher Katie Grimes, who is from Florida, admittedly was "homesick" for the islands. She has an arrangement that will allow her to spend the next couple of weeks hanging out on the North Shore.

"It’s just awesome to be back," Grimes said.

Kailua resident Gilbert Horita hunted down green-dyed kukui-nut lei in Chinatown to give to each player. Two years ago, Horita and Pomai Patton organized a drive to buy championship gold bracelets for the Rainbow Wahine. Both fans already are pricing bracelets commemorating the Rainbows’ World Series appearance.

"They’re awesome, and they deserve everything they get," said Patton, who has received donation inquires from as far away as Bulgaria. "It’s not just here; they’re popular everywhere."

UH head coach Bob Coolen said the Rainbows were warmly greeted in Oklahoma City following their stunning super regional victory over top-ranked Alabama. At the World Series, the Rainbow Wahine participated in daily autograph sessions.

"A lot of people were gravitating to us because we were the novelty school," Coolen said. "They were saying, ‘It’s great to see a new team here.’ … We felt the love from everywhere. We had (former) Hawaii residents coming out from every part of the country."

Coolen said the players remained close despite "living out of their suitcases" for nearly a month. They did laundry every other day.

"We were so close, it didn’t really feel like we were on the road that long," said second baseman Traci Yoshikawa, who hit the game-winning homer in the World Series opener against Missouri. "We were just having fun."

Right fielder Kanani Pu’u-Warren said: "I was roommates with Kelly (Majam) the entire trip. It’s going to be weird not being in a hotel room or her roommate."

Coolen praised the team’s off-field cohesiveness.

"There was no drama," he said. "Everybody got along. That was a testament to the players. I think that really helped us."


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