Pack not back, and that's fine with 'Bows
By Ferd Lewis
The University of Hawai'i softball team finally has pesky Nevada right where it wants it.
Yes, the Western Athletic Conference softball tournament opens tomorrow in Las Cruces, N.M., and the Wolf Pack will be more than 800 miles away.
Only the top six regular season finishers qualify for the double-elimination tournament and, by virtue of its dead-last eighth-place finish, the Wolf Pack (17-28) will be sitting this one out.
Nobody should be happier about that turn of events than the Rainbow Wahine, who are in search of their first WAC Tournament title and play the winner of tomorrow's Louisiana Tech (26-19)-San Jose State (32-23) game on Thursday.
For four consecutive years the Wolf Pack has eliminated the Rainbow Wahine from the WAC Tournament and the automatic NCAA Tournament berth that goes with it.
Fresno State has been the perennial power in WAC softball and the team to beat more years than not. But for the Rainbow Wahine, Nevada has been that raised chunk of sidewalk that UH invariably trips over in the postseason. UH is 9-5 against the rest of the WAC in the tournament but just 1-5 when facing the Wolf Pack.
Even some of UH's best teams, including the 2007 Rainbow Wahine team that finished 12th in the final national poll, got eliminated by Nevada. For all the Rainbow Wahine's regular season success, freaky things have happened when Nevada is the tournament opponent.
"They have been our nemesis for a long time, no doubt about it," head coach Bob Coolen acknowledges. "I don't know what it is, but they've had our number."
Speaking of numbers, you'd like to think that based upon their overall 41-12 and 19-1 WAC regular season body of work, not to mention the No. 23 national ranking, the Rainbow Wahine will get into the NCAA Tournament with a decent seeding regardless of what might happen on the fringe of the Chihuahuan Desert this week.
But this being the NCAA, it behooves the Rainbow Wahine to continue to put their best spike forward. Which means extending their regular season domination of the WAC into the tournament. The Rainbow Wahine's biggest looming challenge is defending champion Fresno State and a victory in UH's opening game will likely set up a return with the Bulldogs, who are the only WAC team to take a game from it this season.
In 14 years of WAC membership, the Rainbow Wahine find themselves with their best opportunity to win the conference tournament because they have what might be their best team. It doesn't hurt that Nevada isn't around to play spoiler, either.