They're friends to the end
By Stephen Tsai
By Stephen Tsai
They were high school classmates, competing together in softball and the Kamehameha Schools' songfest.
But pitcher/first baseman Kate Robinson, center fielder Kaulana Gould and left fielder Brandi Peiler did not form a close bond until they were reunited as University of Hawai'i softball teammates.
Robinson, Gould, Peiler, shortstop Valana Manuma and pitcher Jessica Morton will play their final regular-season games when the Rainbow Wahine host Utah State tomorrow and Sunday.
"We just grew on each other," Gould said. "It's been great."
Robinson, Gould and Peiler formed Kamehameha's starting outfield during their senior year in 2004.
"We were teammates, friends, but we weren't really close (back then)," Robinson said. "I think we got really close in college."
Peiler said, smiling: "Kate wasn't as sociable as she is now. Through learning experiences, we've kind of bonded together. We've become better friends."
Manuma, a Kapolei High graduate, was on a seventh-grade team with Robinson and Gould. Morton, who was raised in Oregon, fit in easily with her UH teammates.
"I met so many people playing on this team," Morton said. "I've had so many opportunities just being on the island — the families I've met through the girls. The best memories have been traveling with the girls, and going all over the United States because of the softball program."
The five seniors were instrumental in leading the Rainbows to a berth in last year's Super Regionals. They kept the Rainbows in the top-25 rankings for most of this season.
"They've been a great group," Coolen said. "How they play is how we play."
Robinson is the valedictorian. An All-America pitcher last season, she is a finalist for 2008 national player of the year. She already has committed to playing in a professional softball league this summer.
Robinson batted .191 in 44 games as a freshman in 2005, and .262 with three home runs in 32 games in 2006.
"I thought right away, I was going to play," Robinson said. "And then it was very humbling not to play in my first two years."
She had a breakout season as a junior, hitting .358 with 19 home runs and 72 RBIs. As a pitcher, she was 17-1.
"Junior year, I had a chance to play," she said. "It's just taken off. I have no real explanation for it."
Gould had planned to attend a Mainland college. She received an offer from San Diego State and an inquiry from Tennessee.
"My grandpa got sick when I was a senior," she said. "He's my No. 1 fan. I decided to stay home and play in front of my family."
She then wrote to Coolen, who worked out a scholarship package.
Gould was named to the All-Western Athletic Conference first team as a freshman. She has played in the outfield and at catcher, and has been used in almost every lineup spot. She is the only left-handed-hitting starter.
She also has emerged as a vocal leader.
Peiler had wanted to join the Rainbows as a freshman. But there was no available scholarship money. Instead, she accepted an offer from Hawai'i Pacific University, where she pitched and played in the outfield.
"I went there and made the best of it," said Peiler, who was named the PacWest Freshman of the Year.
Still, she said, "I always wanted to play Division I softball."
After requesting a release from HPU, she contacted UH. This time there was an opening. Peiler hit a combined .306 with 18 home runs in her first two UH seasons. This year, she is hitting .344.
"She's a sneaky .300 hitter," Coolen said.
Peiler said: "I don't need to be recognized. I feel if our team does well, and if we're winning, that's all that matters. At the end of the day, if we're not winning, I'm not winning. It's a team sport. I'm just happy when we win."
Manuma said she has followed the Rainbows since she was young.
"That was my childhood dream to be a Rainbow Wahine," she said.
Manuma has become a pitcher's best friend, saving many plays with her range, sure glove and strong arm. She was named to the All-WAC second team last year.
Morton has rebounded from a frightening injury as a freshman, when she was struck on the jaw by a line drive during practice. Only last month the corrective braces were removed.
The team's most stylish player — she has rainbow stripes in her hair and wears lightning-bolt decals under her eyes — Morton is a spot starter and dependable reliever. Last season, she was 9-1.
"She's really fulfilling that relief role," Coolen said.
The five seniors are on track to graduate.
Robinson will earn a bachelor's degree in December. She is majoring in business management.
She said her long-range plan is to open a restaurant with her father.
As for the type of meals she will offer, she held her right index finger over her pursed lips.
"Let's say I like fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh meats; good-tasting food," Robinson said.
Gould will become the Rainbows' undergraduate assistant coach in the fall semester.
"One of my goals is to coach softball over here," she said. "It'll be easier for Bob because I already know the program."
She is scheduled to earn a bachelor's degree in family resources in December.
This fall, Peiler will be joining the nursing program. As an HPU freshman, she took nursing classes. But she had to put those studies on hold because of the hectic schedule at Manoa.
Now she is ready for the three-year program. "It's something I want to do," Peiler said.
Manuma is on track to earn a bachelor's degree in sociology in December.
And Morton will complete her UH studies in two weeks. She is majoring in psychology and minoring in sociology.
Morton's post-graduate plans are to remain in Hawai'i.
"I want to be a pitching coach on the island," she said. "I want to work with all ages. I've been doing it during the past summers. Now I can actually do it without having to balance my softball schedule with their schedule."
Morton has had the longest tenure among the players.
"I was telling someone the other day that I played with Stacy Porter," Morton said. "Doesn't that seem like a long time ago? Times goes by so fast."
Of her plans to become a pitching coach: "I'm not ready to leave this. I've been playing softball my entire life. I don't know if there's life after softball. I don't know if I'm ready to give it up yet."
WAC TICKETS ON SALE
Tickets are on sale now for next week's WAC Tournament at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. There will be at least 13 games played in the double-elimination tournament. All-session packages are $25 for adults, $20 for senior citizens and $15 for ages 4 through high school. Single-game tickets are $7, $6 and $5.
Visit Tsai's blog at http://warriorbeat.honadvblogs.com
Reach Stephen Tsai at email@example.com.