Australians the 'home' team in U.S. Cup softball
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
To add to the confusion of an international softball tournament where home runs could land in tennis courts, Australia will be the home team in the U.S. Cup.
National teams from the United States, Japan, China and Australia are playing at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium today through Sunday. No one on the first three teams did more than surf through Hawai'i in the past. Three Australians have made lasting impressions.
All-America pitchers Brooke Wilkins and Kelly Gentle led the Rainbow Wahine to their first four NCAA Tournaments; shortstop Kate Judd powered them to their last a month ago.
"One thing I always enjoyed about being here is the people have always been very nice," Wilkins said. "When people ask if I regret coming over here, or regret leaving, the answer is no to both."
Wilkins, one of the hardest throwers in softball, put Hawai'i on the intercollegiate map in 1994 and '95, then left to train full-time with Australia's Olympic team. She won her second bronze medal in Sydney last year, going 1-0 with two saves, then underwent two hip operations and hasn't pitched competitively since.
Her plan is to pitch her way into the 2004 Games before retiring. With Melanie Roche taking time off and Tanya Harding due any day with her first child, Wilkins is the most experienced pitcher Australia has by a bunch.
Wilkins is one of six Olympians on an Australian squad that is here to peek into the future. Pitcher Felicity Witt, who will be a UH sophomore in the fall, is expected to be a big part of that future, but couldn't make the trip because of a rib injury suffered late in the Wahine's season.
"We're really excited about her future," Australia head coach Simon Roskvist said. "It was devastating for her not to make this trip for her debut. She was one very upset player. I was one very upset coach."
Gentle, who holds nearly every Wahine pitching record, is Witt's replacement. She worked for a software company since graduating from UH. A week after getting laid off, she got the call to come here.
What: International Women's Softball. Where: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. When: Today3 p.m., China vs. Australia; 5, USA vs. Japan. Admission: $5 daily. Parking: $3.
Tomorrow3 p.m., Australia vs. Japan; 5, USA vs. China.
Saturday3 p.m., Japan vs. China; 5, USA vs. Australia.
Sunday1 p.m., bronze medal game; 3, gold medal game.
What: International Women's Softball.
Where: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
When: Today3 p.m., China vs. Australia; 5, USA vs. Japan.
Admission: $5 daily. Parking: $3.
Gentle calls this year "a learning curve," with a concentration on stamina. Coaches have found her speed drops in the fifth inning, then returns in the sixth. At this level, one bad inning is too much.
Australia's coaches caught on to Judd's live arm and livelier bat when she was barely a teen. "She comes from a small area," Roskvist said. "To be such a good ballplayer ... she stood out quite a bit."
Nothing changed when she came here. Judd has been Hawai'i's starting shortstop the past two years. Wilkins wonders if she's done anything else.
"When I asked Kate if she'd done this or done that, she kept saying no," Wilkins said. "I just went aaargh! I had to tell her where to go and what to do, and I was only here two years.
"But I had a different team. All the party girls. I think this is a quiet group. Kate's stories are very different."
This week is the first time the Australians have played together. The Americans have two Olympians (Stacey Nuveman and Amanda Freed) and two weeks together. Japan, with five Olympians, is in the midst of its club season. Little is known about China, which came in Tuesday to the relief of tournament organizers, who could only contact the team via fax.
Last September, Japan ended Team USA's 112-game winning streak in pool play at the Olympics. The U.S. then lost to China and Australia all in extra innings and still won the gold. Japan took silver, followed by Australia and China.
"Everyone in the top four is pretty equal," Gentle said. "The Olympics showed that."
SHORT HOPS: The teams are on their way to the 18-team Canada Cup, June 30-July 6, in Vancouver. Australia is defending champion. ... Stacey Porter, who will be a sophomore at UH this summer, is playing on Australia's developmental team. ... The U.S. Red team is competing here and in Canada. The U.S. Blue team will play in Canada, and at the Pan American Qualifier in Venezuela. The 32 athletes on the Red and Blue teams will be invited to September's tryout camp, along with past Olympians. ... Catherine Osterman, who graduated from high school a month ago, helped U.S. Red to a 2-1, 13-inning victory over U.S. Gold the 2000 Olympic team on Sunday. Osterman gave up one run and struck out 13 in 10 innings. Osterman is the third-youngest starting pitcher in U.S. history. ... Team USA has won the last four World Championships, last four Pan American Games and the only two Olympics.