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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 25, 2001

Surging softball Wahine aim for Top 25

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

After helping itself the past few weeks, the University of Hawai'i softball team goes into a road trip simply not wanting to hurt itself.

The Wahine play a non-conference doubleheader today at Oklahoma State, then stick around for a weekend Western Athletic Conference series at Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane (12-33, 2-6 WAC) got a late conference start and have not been able to get out of the basement. They are coming off a split at San Jose State.

UH ends its regular season at home May 4-5 against San Jose State.

By then — maybe by today — the Wahine hope to have their first ranking. They climbed to No. 29 in the last USA Today/NFCA Top 25.

Over the last two weekends, Hawai'i (37-16, 8-4) has split with 14th-ranked — and perennial conference champion — Fresno State and taken 3-of-4 from Portland State. The Wahine remain a half-game back of Fresno State in the race for the WAC's NCAA Tournament berth.

In the same time, the Wahine have solidified their future. After receiving commitments from three Mainland players during the early signing period, UH coach Bob Coolen added two of the top local recruits.

Shannon Tabion was the All-State Pitcher of the Year after leading Baldwin to its first state championship in February. She should help fill the gap seniors Desiree Duran and Janelle Gonzales will leave.

Coolen is also hoping to get another pitcher from Australia, his prized pipeline. The first two — All-Americans Brooke Wilkins and Kelly Gentle — are now in their country's national program. Freshman Felicity Witt is the third. She is 17-10 despite losing five of her last six.

Coolen received a letter of intent from Australian Melissa Roberts in the fall, but she has since enrolled in medical school and withdrawn her commitment. Sophomore Sherri Oronoz, who is not expected to pitch again this year because of a broken finger, should be available next season.

"Tabion was someone we've been watching and she wants to pitch," Coolen says. "She's a big enough girl that she can bring the ball. She'll get a lot of throwing in. We'll groom her. With the loss of the two pitchers this year, that's going to help her. Next year we're going to be searching for pitchers."

Tabion was 15-0 as a senior with 189 strikeouts and pitched three shutouts in the state tournament. She will come in with 'Iolani's Noelle Izumi, a three-time all-state infielder who played on two state championship teams.

"She has really quick hands, a lot of range and a good understanding of the game," Coolen says of Izumi. "We are looking for her to see time at both middle infield positions, but mainly at shortstop. Even though she will have to play behind Kate (Judd) for a little while, we will give her opportunities to play elsewhere because she has a lot to offer."

SHORT HOPS: WAC teams Hawai'i, Fresno State and Loyola Marymount were among the six teams in the second NCAA Division I West Region ranking. The first two regional rankings were done alphabetically. The next two will be in order of strength.