Iron-rich diet helps fuel Rainbows
By Stephen Tsai
For the Hawai'i softball team, the quest for the NCAA's single-season home run record is lined with metal — from the weightlifting sessions to the lively aluminum bats.
It begins on Mondays, as it has since September, when strength coach Kenny Esquivel pushes the Rainbow Wahine to push heavy metal.
"He kicks our butt," right fielder Kanani Pu'u-Warren said. "He gets under all of our skin, really pushing us."
Third baseman Melissa Gonzalez, who has slammed 20 home runs this season, said each Monday is devoted to a cycle of full-body workouts, with an emphasis on Olympic-styled lifts such as squats, back-squats and power cleans.
"It's nice to do it in the beginning of the week," Gonzalez said. "It gives us time to get all of the soreness out by the weekend. It's pretty good. It's showing on the field."
Indeed, the improved lower-body strength — "it starts with legs," said Esquivel, who has worked in the Florida Marlins' minor-league system — has been credited with the Rainbows' power surge.
It is most evident in second-year freshman Kelly Majam's swing. Majam, who bats left-handed, uses a two-tap approach. With the weight on her left foot, she will tap her front foot when the pitcher is in a set position, then a second time as soon as the pitch is released. Majam then will simultaneously shift her weight to the right foot while swinging. The full-bodied motion has helped Majam, who is only 5 feet 3, launch 25 home runs this season. She is tied for first nationally with an average of 0.47 homers per game.
In all, the Rainbows have hit 128 homers in 53 games. With at least four games remaining, the Rainbows have targeted the NCAA's single-season record of 134, set by Arizona in 63 games in 2009.
"A couple of weeks ago, we didn't think we could get it," Majam said. "But now we see it's in reach."
The Rainbows will play a minimum of two games in this week's double-elimination Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Las Cruces, N.M. At No. 15 in the NCAA's ratings percentage index (RPI), the Rainbows are considered a lock for the Regionals the following week, giving them at least another two games.
"We're definitely thinking about it," Gonzalez said of the record. In a three-game sweep in Las Cruces last month, the Rainbows hit 12 home runs in 95 at-bats.
The Rainbows depart early tomorrow. They will pack 40 Easton bats, including 10 Stealth bats that they received in 2005 and 2006. While most things wear down in time, the two-piece Stealth bats become livelier with age.
"It takes a thousand good swings in a bat to get the right flexion mode, where the reboundability is where you want," said UH head coach Bob Coolen, a neatnik who kept the bats. "These bats retain their liveliness."
UH's Stealth bats, which are never used in batting practice, meet the NCAA reboundability requirement of not having an exit speed exceeding 98 mph.
The NCAA tests only the equipment. It does not factor the hitter's strength or bat speed. Majam's swing, for instance, has been timed at about 74 mph; the fastest pitch usually does not exceed 70 mph. It is believed stronger players can generate more power even if the bat's reboundability measures 98 mph or slower during testing.
Still, art is more important than science.
"We want to get base hits," Majam said. "If we get home runs, fine."