Softball talent in Hawaii is no secret UH in hot pursuit of Series berth
By Ferd Lewis
University of Hawai'i softball coach Bob Coolen was admittedly a little taken aback recently when he said a coach asked him, "where did you hide (Jessica) Iwata?"
Fact is, for all of Iwata's freshman emergence, this season softball talent from this state is less of a secret than it has ever been.
At least for anybody who has been paying attention to the NCAA Tournament(s) this year.
With Hawai'i Pacific University opening play in the NCAA Division II national championship tournament today, UH in the super regionals sweet 16 tomorrow and several other homegrown players having represented the spectrum of NCAA divisions, the state is shining on diamonds far and wide as rarely before.
From St. Joseph, Mo. — scene of the Division II series — to Tuscaloosa, Ala. — site of UH's super regional — and a handful of points elsewhere, Hawai'i-produced players are making their mark on the national stage this postseason.
"The talent has always been there," Coolen said. "There is good coaching in Hawai'i and there are good players here (in Hawai'i)."
The proof, more than ever, is in the playing: Eight of the Rainbow Wahine's 21 players are homegrown as are 12 of the 18 players on the Sea Warriors' roster.
That's quite a compliment to the talent in the state. So, too, is the fact that a handful of Division I teams, including Tennessee, Brigham Young, East Carolina and New Mexico State, have been coming in to mine their share of recruits.
For years Hawai'i has been acknowledged as among the per capita leaders in the number of college — and pro — football players it produces. So, too, with collegiate volleyball players.
And, now, it is softball's coming out party of sorts. "There are a good number that come out of our state every year," Coolen said. "We've tried to build our program around them and HPU has done a real nice job recruiting (the Islands), too."
Bound by the NCAA maximum of 12 scholarship equivalencies at any one time, there is a Division I limit to what the Rainbow Wahine and others can offer even by dividing some scholarships into fractions. So, UH has to be painstaking in its searches and choosy in its offerings.
Iwata, a Kaua'i High graduate who was the Western Athletic Conference player of the year with a .394 batting average, 17 home runs and 53 RBIs, has been an example of the gems to be found in plain sight. The 5-foot, 4-inch shortstop helped lead the Raiders to the HHSAA state Division II title in 2009.
"And," Coolen added, "we didn't have to hide her anywhere."
Indeed, this year in particular there is no concealing the bumper crop of Hawai'i talent in the championship rounds.