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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Wahine level the field in softball

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

For years, when they have talked about a race in Western Athletic Conference softball, they meant the one for second place.

In the WAC, there has been Fresno State and, then, there has been everybody else.

The Bulldogs won the championships and everybody else competed for Miss Congeniality.

Until now, that is.

What the University of Hawai'i Wahine did this past week in Fresno, where they split a four-game showdown series against the 15th-ranked Bulldogs, went past being classified as an upset and sparked a revolution.

Suddenly there is a pennant race and the Wahine, a half-game back of Fresno with 12 to play, are smack dab in the middle of it. As the Wahine open a four-game series with Portland State on Friday in Manoa, there is finally some drama to the WAC and the conference has UH to thank.

To put this turn of events in perspective, imagine somebody in the WAC taking a couple matches from the Wahine volleyball team at the Stan Sheriff Center. Try to picture the Wahine going into the home stretch of the volleyball season actually forced to defend their WAC title.

Such are the shock waves the Wahine sent through the WAC with a 2-0 victory Friday and a 4-0 triumph Saturday. The Desiree Duran-authored shutouts ended a 12-game losing streak to the Bulldogs, who had won 36 of the previous 40 meetings.

That they came at 5,467-seat Bulldog Diamond, that state-of-the-art chamber of horrors where the Wahine had lost 18 in a row, reinforced the significance of the accomplishment.

They might have been the most meaningful pair of wins in the school's softball history — two triumphs that say a lot about where the 34-15 Wahine are and where they want to go.

"They sent a message that we can play with anybody and our program is getting to that level where we can compete against Fresno for the conference title," said Wahine coach Bob Coolen.

The Bulldogs, national champions just three years ago, have been the yardstick by which the Wahine and, indeed, the rest of the WAC have measured themselves. Each of the previous three seasons the Wahine have finished second to Fresno State — mostly distant runner-up showings that underlined the degree of separation between FSU and everybody else.

But as Duran was working on a one-hitter Friday and the Wahine were becoming the first team to score on Leslie Poole in 47 innings, Coolen said he could tell things were changing. Not just on the scoreboard, but in the players' minds.

"Like I told our players, they (the Bulldogs) were playing to keep themselves in the ballgame and we were playing to make exactly what happened happen," Coolen said.

Indeed, there's a new ballgame in WAC softball and it is the Wahine who have made it one.