Feb. 8—Entering his 33rd season as Hawaii's head softball coach, the butterflies are still there in the stomach of Bob Coolen.
Entering his 33rd season as Hawaii's head softball coach, the butterflies are still there in the stomach of Bob Coolen.
They came during his drive onto campus for work Monday morning knowing it's finally game week after a long offseason.
The Rainbow Wahine open with the Bank of Hawaii Paradise Classic running today through Sunday hosting Nevada tonight in the fourth and final game at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
UH will play Kansas City on Friday and then host a doubleheader against Brigham Young and Ole Miss on Saturday before closing with the Rebels in the only game Sunday.
Hawaii returns its top six hitters from last season, including senior second baseman Maya Nakamura, who made the Big West All-Preseason Team after hitting.390 last season.
Despite the question marks on the mound, the expectations for the team inside of the home dugout are a lot more than what other coaches think as Hawaii was picked sixth in the Big West Preseason Coaches Poll.
"The eight seniors. That's what has me excited since we have veterans all around the field, " Coolen said Tuesday. "We have all of the bases covered and I'm excited about the potential of that starting group."
Nakamura and Malia Xiao Gin will continue to anchor the Hawaii defense up the middle with senior Ka'ena Keliinoi returning to play third base.
Dallas Millwood is back at first base for one final year after an injury cut last season short just the second week in.
All-Big West first-team catcher Izabella Martinez also returns as UH's leader in hits (49 ) last season. Martinez, who hit.384 with eight doubles, nine homers and 43 RBIs, was also one of the toughest players in the country to strike out.
She whiffed only four times in 53 games.
"This year is so important because we're picked sixth (in the Big West ) and I have expectations that are different, " Coolen said. "I'm hoping our players have expectations that are different and it's all going to (come down to ) the mound."
Hawaii was poised to have an experienced pitching rotation coming back until it was hit by the transfer portal. Brianna Lopez, who started more than half of UH's games last year and went 16-12 with a 2.43 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 167 1 /3 innings pitched, is now at Ole Miss, which plays UH twice this weekend.
UH returns its next four most experienced pitchers from last year with sophomore Key-annah Campbell-Pua leading the way.
Junior Addison Kostrencich is a transfer from Long Beach State.
"(Losing Lopez ) hurts because she told me one thing and she did another, " Coolen admitted. "That's not really something that you forget as a coach. I'll be honest with you, the (transfer ) portal is not something I favor. I've had to change everything I do as a coach."
Coolen's contract was extended for two more years after last season and he plans to step away after the 2025 season, when he hopes to lead UH into the first Big West Conference Tournament.
Nakamura, a Roosevelt alumna, has started all 147 games she's played in her career. She said the depth of this team is something it hasn't had in recent years.
"In the scrimmages, usually it's divided between starters and non-starters and everybody kind of understands that factor, but I think what we've been seeing, especially lately, is this "B team " is competing really well, not just offensively but especially defensively, " Nakamura said. "It's exciting to see that because I think there's definitely competition for positions, for hitting roles, and also for base-running roles."
Rainbow Wahine Softball At Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium Bank of Hawaii Paradise Classic—When : Today through Sunday Today—BYU vs. Kansas City, 10 :30 a.m.—BYU vs. Ole Miss, 1 p.m.—Kansas City vs. Nevada, 3 :30 p.m.—Hawaii vs. Nevada, 6 p.m.