'Bows have grip on new source of power
BY Stephen Tsai
Drop shots are not unusual on a tennis court.
But when the shots are softballs launched from batting practice at the adjacent Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium, and they are landing on the tennis court, then ...
"The (UH) men's and women's coaches get mad at us," UH softball coach Bob Coolen said. "I'm not sure what we can do except yell 'incoming!' "
The power surge is a nice problem for Coolen, whose Rainbow Wahine open their season with tonight's game against McNeese State in the Paradise Classic. First pitch is set for 6 p.m.
In fall training and the preseason, the Rainbows have displayed power at every lineup position. Leadoff hitter Kelly Majam, left fielder Jenna Rodriguez, first baseman Amanda Tauali'i, designated player Makani Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu and third baseman Melissa Gonzales are all capable of hitting in the cleanup spot.
For now, Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu, who hit .298 with seven homers last year, will bat there.
"We have a lot of options," Coolen said.
Coolen traced the increased power to good health (Majam and Gonzalez conquered injuries), an intensive offseason workout program, and lively bats.
Through careful maintenance, the Rainbows have accumulated 40 bats, with several dating four and five years. Softball bats deserve vintage classifications; the older, often the better.
Coolen estimated it takes thousands of contacts for a bat to be "broken in." Many of UH's bats are Stealth two-piece models that offer springiness or, in softball parlance, "rebound-ability."
"Through many, many repetitions, they've become lively bats," Coolen said.
The best, for reasons that require physics knowledge, are bats with "stress fractures," Coolen said.
"Once it gets a stress fracture, it's inevitably going to (break)," Coolen said. "But with the stress fracture comes good flexion. As it ages, it's going to keep its rebound-ability."
The NCAA limits the exit speed from each bat at 98 mph. Coolen said all of the Rainbows' bats have met the requirement, although he expects some of the older models to be re-tested during Mainland tournaments.
For now, Coolen enjoys managing an offense that goes to great lengths. At their stadium, each point of the outfield fence is 200 feet from home plate. Beyond the fence, is a 40-foot-high netting meant to shield the tennis courts.
"The 40-foot fence has become a target for them to put it over," Coolen said. "It used to be, 'Let's reach for the 200.' Now they're going for the 250 it takes to hit it over that thing. I'm impressed with the power we're generating."
Coolen is less surprised by the maturity of a team that is replacing last year's top hitter (right fielder Tanisha Milca) and All-America third baseman Clare Warwick.
That's because Majam — a five-tool center fielder — has recovered from a knee injury, Gonzalez is healthy after suffering foot problems, and Rodriguez brings the experience of playing on a junior college championship team.
"I've been waiting a long time for this," Majam said.
With Majam in center, Kanani Pu'u-Warren moves to right field, where she becomes essentially a fifth infielder. She has the arm strength to throw out batters at first.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, can make the long throws necessary as a left fielder. She also will compete for a pitching role, as either the No. 3 starter or closer.
Stephanie Ricketts, who went 22-11 as a freshman in 2009, is viewed as the ace. Coolen projects Ricketts, who opened last year as the No. 3 pitcher, to earn about 40 starts this season.
"I'll do whatever he asks me to do," Ricketts said.
Kaia Parnaby, a left-handed freshman from Australia, enters as the No. 2 starter. But Coolen said Rodriguez could push Parnaby.