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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 2, 2001

They've proved their worth

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

How many times, you wonder, have University of Hawai'i coaches Mike Wilton and Bob Coolen told their players to take 'em one at a time?

How often have they counseled their men's volleyball and women's softball teams to ignore the distractions and focus on the task at hand? To put the team first, despite personal setbacks?

In the 19 years between them as head coaches at UH, they've probably said it enough that it comes without thinking.

Yet this season the admonitions have undoubtedly carried deeper, more personal meaning given their precarious contract status.

For when their seasons began, both Wilton and Coolen were in the final months of their contracts. They were down to the final year of what had once-upon-a-time been multi-year agreements with no hint that extensions would be forthcoming.

Indeed, at times the official silence about their futures seemed to say a lot. None of it very encouraging — that much their rare, tight-lipped comments had made clear.

Wilton had, in fact, been without a contract for five months until signing a one-year extension on the eve of the exhibition opener in late October.

It was a situation that couldn't have been easy for either coach, both of whom have families. It had to be frustrating given their past accomplishments and filled with anxiety going into this season with such win-or-else uncertainty hanging over their heads.

So you have to admire the jobs they have done. Their performances under pressure rank among their best while at UH. This from two coaches who are the winningest UH has at their positions.

Wilton guided his team to a 19-7 record and into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation volleyball finals, a selection committee show of hands away from his third NCAA final four. And he did it with what was, essentially, an eight-man team with a freshman setter.

And Coolen has positioned his softball team — 42-16 with four regular-season games remaining — for what would be its first Western Athletic Conference title and a return to the NCAA Tournament.

Along the way there have been milestone victories . This season, the men's volleyball team beat UCLA at Pauley Pavilion for the first time in 18 years, climbed to No. 1 nationally and beat Brigham Young in Provo in the MPSF semifinals.

The softball team claimed its biggest conference victories ever — in the Big West or the WAC — by splitting a four-game series at perennial power Fresno State, where it had lost 18 in a row.

In a remarkable season with their backs very much to the wall, the two coaches have once again demonstrated their ability and their worth to the school. You hope this time around UH will be both prompt and generous in recognizing their accomplishments.