Blanning, Yoshizawa set to close out UH careers
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Stephen Tsai
Pick two University of Hawai'i softball players, any two, and both would not be as different in personality and style as pitcher Paula Blanning and catcher Kristi Yoshizawa. Their final home UH games are this weekend.
Blanning is from Down Under (Berowra, Australia), Yoshizawa is from Northern California (Rancho Cordova).
Blanning is reserved, noting, "I don't like to party very much."
Yoshizawa travels with a hair-straightening iron, wears a wide silver ring on her left (glove) hand for good luck during games and doesn't go out in public without makeup. She has a pierced nose and navel.
"All of the girls joke because I wear eyeliner (during games)," she said. "I told them they're not going to catch me not wearing it."
Neither listed Manoa as their first post-high school choice. Blanning, who practiced with the Australian national team, did not plan on attending college. This is Yoshizawa's third college in four years.
Before arriving in August 2001, Blanning knew little of Hawai'i and even less of American collegiate athletics. "It was a culture shock, really," Blanning said.
Yoshizawa's father, Glenn, is a Farrington High School graduate, and her paternal grandparents live on Maui. She had visited the Islands frequently.
"A lot of people say, 'I thought you were local until I hear you talk,' " Yoshizawa said, smiling. "I'm like, 'Uh, thanks?' "
But for all of their dissimilarities, UH coach Bob Coolen said, "they're both leaders and good students."
Blanning is a model of persistency, overcoming a severe shoulder injury and deep competition to craft a role as a utility pitcher.
"She's just been a real workhorse for us," Coolen said, noting Blanning has been used as a spot starter, middle reliever and closer. This year, she struck out 14 Detroit Mercy batters in a game.
Yoshizawa has emerged as a field leader, calling all the pitches and helping to develop the pitching staff.
"She calls a nice game, and she's become a good coach out there for us," Coolen said.
With a lean athletic build, Yoshizawa is a prototypical Rainbow — and atypical NCAA — catcher.
"We don't need the big lumbering catcher," Coolen said. "We want agile ones who can run, throw and take charge."
Both have overcome adversity. As a freshman, Blanning felt discomfort in her throwing shoulder. Exploratory surgery showed a complete tear of the back of the right labrum and a partial tear in the front area. Rehabilitation lasted about a year, a period that allowed her to become acclimated to college.
"In Australia, you don't have opportunities like this," she said. "Our colleges are for school (only). That's it. I finished high school, and I didn't really want to go to college. But I got the call to come here, and I said, 'Sure, I'll come to Hawai'i to play softball.' "
She said the family of former Rainbow Joyce Antonio served as her sponsor.
"We kind of got immersed in local culture, which is awesome," Blanning said. "It's really family-oriented over here."
Yoshizawa's career nearly ended before it started. The week before Sacramento State's 2003 season, she was involved in a car accident.
"I woke up in the hospital," she said. "I don't remember going in the ambulance or anything. When I saw the car, it got hit everywhere but the driver's side. They told me if anybody was with me, they wouldn't have made it. It was an eye-opening situation."
During the three weeks she was sidelined, she lost her starting job at catcher. She transferred to Sierra College, then moved again to UH. During the offseason, she made a smaller but more successful switch, from third to catcher. This year, she caught three perfect games.
"I keep telling myself, 'This is my last year. What am I going to do when my year is over?'" she said. "I try to think about all of the good things, and that's definitely one of the positive things I like to think about."
Reach Stephen Tsai at firstname.lastname@example.org.