CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Rainbow Wahine starters Valana Manuma, Brandi Peiler, Kaulana Gould and Tanisha Milca won Hawaii state softball titles in high school.
Wahine are winners
Hawaii has a handful of players who proved they are championship-level in high school
Proven winners are abundant in the University of Hawaii's softball lineup this year. .............. Eight of the 22 players on the roster won a Hawaii state championship during their high school careers, with four of those starting for the Rainbow Wahine this season.
Bank of Hawaii Invitational
What: Round-robin college softball tournament with Hawaii hosting Kansas, Longwood, No. 16 Northwestern and San Diego State
Where: Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium
When: Today through Sunday, four games daily. Hawaii plays Longwood (5 p.m.) and San Diego State (7 p.m.) today
Note: UH coach Bob Coolen is shooting for his 600th career college win.
"I wasn't aware of that fact, but we do target the best players in Hawaii and there's a lot of talent here," coach Bob Coolen said recently. "A lot of them want to stay at home and take what they accomplished in high school and do it for UH. They want to do it in front of their friends and families."
Starting outfielders Brandi Peiler and Kaulana Gould, and relief pitcherbackup first baseman Kate Robinson are from Kamehameha's 2002 state championship team. Sisters Valana and Malama Manuma played for Kapolei during its run to the state title in 2004. Valana starts at shortstop and Malama is a backup outfielder for UH.
Also, Rainbow Wahine starting outfielder Tanisha Milca and backup outfielder Kalina Kama were part of Kailua's state-championship run in 2003, and substitute second baseman Richie Titcomb was on the University High team that won the inaugural Division II state title in 2004.
Milca and Malama Manuma had to overcome serious injuries to get from high school to college.
"I missed my whole senior season because of a fractured ankle," said Milca, a freshman leadoff hitter and right fielder who is batting .364. "I didn't think I'd start this year, so it's like a dream come true. I took a year off and did a lot of rehabbing."
Malama Manuma, who is trying to crack the starting lineup, missed most of her senior season with a torn ACL.
"It's hard for a lot of us," said Manuma, who is batting .286 with two home runs in 13 of the Rainbow Wahine's 22 games. "We're not used to sitting on the bench, but we're here to support the team any way we can. At a team meeting, Tyleen (first baseman Tausaga) said we're all friends, but when we get on the field, we're all competing for a spot. Those of us on the bench are pushing the starters to bring their 'A' game."
Coolen conceded it's a lot tougher than it used to be to keep the best Hawaii players at home.
"If they express they want to go away, we don't put the pressure on. We back off," he said. "But, we used to have a luxury that we don't have any more. Now, a lot more colleges are trying to pluck the best players from the islands. Mainland coaches used to call and ask for information on Hawaii players and I would give it to them. I don't go down that road now that they're targeting our recruits. I tell them they'll have to come and see for themselves."
Peiler escaped the Rainbow Wahine recruiting grasp, but only for one year. As a freshman, she earned Pacific West Conference honors at Hawaii Pacific.
"I was so ecstatic when we were doing the paperwork for Brandi to come here," Coolen said. "I knew we were getting, by far, the best hitter in the state. She really adds a dimension. She can hit home runs, play the outfield and she has that year of experience."
Peiler, who starts in left field, is batting .361, behind only Milca and Tausaga (.371). She also has three home runs.
Gould has become a fixture in the outfield and as a team leader. She starts in center.
"Last year, I exceeded all of my expectations," said Gould, who is batting just .217 and can also catch. "Everything was going right. This year, I've started a little slow, but I will eventually pick it up. But these two years have been fun. I love it so much. Every aspect is about team, that's the main thing. The upperclassmen have been phenomenal and the younger kids have all been following them."
For Valana Manuma (.338 average), it's been a year of building confidence, so far.
"As a freshman, I didn't have confidence and was really nervous," she said. "This year, I'm more relaxed, but I still have days where I'm kind of off."
Coolen thinks it's a matter of Valana believing in herself.
"She has so much talent and I don't think she realizes it," the coach said. "On the field, if an error happens, she has to step back and still maintain her presence and not have doubt. She needs to get over the perception that someone is always looking over her shoulder."
Robinson knows her role, at present, is to fill in.
"Yeah, I would like more pitching time, but our (starting) pitchers are doing well, so wherever I'm needed, wherever there's an opening," Robinson (5 2/3 innings, 2.47 ERA) said.
Added Coolen: "Kate is biding her time, waiting for her moment to shine and it will come. She's a vital part of the mix."
Titcomb (.250 average), who also played baseball with the boys in high school, is learning lots of new stuff.
"She's always been a right-handed hitter," Coolen said. "But we've taught her a lefty slap to try to take advantage of her speed down the line and now she can bat from both sides."
Kama, who was brought up from JV to varsity during the Surfriders' state championship in 2003, doesn't have any at-bats for the Rainbow Wahine in two games played.
"She's a very tough out in practices and scrimmages," Coolen said. "And she works diligently to better her game."
Tausaga (Kaimuki), Gail Matsushima (Punahou), Stacey Yamada (Castle) and Alana Power (Kealakehe) are the Hawaii girls on the roster who did not win a state title.
With so many underclassmen, Coolen has high hopes.
"What they're learning now -- and going through all the highs and lows -- you would hope that it's adding up to a special time in the future," Coolen said. "I'm hoping this team is embracing the nucleus we have and what could be. They have to stay humble, stay projected and stay focused."