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StarBulletin.com

Horiuchi makes up for time away


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POSTED: Friday, February 27, 2009

Liane Horiuchi threw on her black and gold Purdue uniform and immediately got inquisitive looks from her teammates.

“;They said it was weird seeing me in a uniform,”; the 2005 Kamehameha graduate said.

For a whole year, Horiuchi was there every day for practice. Every workout, in or out of season, Horiuchi was there. For team meetings to discuss things off the field, Horiuchi was present for those, too.

The only place Horiuchi wasn't seen was on the field for game day. After transferring from Tennessee at the end of the 2007 season, Horiuchi had to sit out last year, and could only watch as the Boilermakers qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.

Ever since she picked up a softball in first grade, Horiuchi has played the sport year-round. When she wasn't leading Kamehameha to one of its three consecutive Interscholastic League of Honolulu championships, she was playing club softball for Mililani Prep.

So when she had to sit out a whole season, it was her first extended break from softball in 15 years.

“;The hardest part was doing the same things that your teammates are doing, but not getting the benefit of actually competing in games,”; Horiuchi said. “;Ultimately, it gave me a lot more fire for this season.”;

As a senior in high school, Horiuchi couldn't have been more excited to be a Volunteer. Despite a strong pull to stay home and play for Hawaii, Horiuchi made the tough choice to leave her family for Knoxville, Tenn.

On the field, her game didn't suffer a bit. She earned SEC All-Freshman honors, hitting .273 with three homers.

But as a sophomore, her average dipped below .200. She came back to hit .500 in the NCAA regionals, where Tennessee eliminated Hawaii to advance to the College World Series. The Volunteers made it all the way to the title game before losing to Arizona. It wound up being Horiuchi's final game in Volunteer orange.

“;In the end, ultimately I decided that the main reason for me to attend college was for my academics,”; Horiuchi said. “;So I made the decision to go to Purdue, where I would be able to pursue my academic goals.”;

It was a decision Horiuchi struggled with. In two seasons, she played 142 games with Tennessee and was within one game of a national championship.

“;I didn't want to give up on the program,”; Horiuchi said. “;I kept trying to find ways to be able to achieve both goals, and in the end, it wasn't working out as I hoped it would.”;

The season ended in June, giving Horiuchi little time to find a new school. Fortunately, Purdue was in a situation to offer her what she wanted both athletically and academically. Ultimately, she wants to go to pharmacy school, and Purdue's status as one of the best in the nation mixed with a solid softball program made the choice fairly easy.

“;It was just so difficult having to make such a big decision in such a short amount of time,”; Horiuchi said.

After biding her time for a season, Horiuchi made her Boilermakers debut at the beginning of the month. It didn't take long for her to be part of history, as Purdue defeated No. 4 UCLA 2-1 in its opener. It was the first time the Boilermakers had ever beaten a top-five team.

“;It was exciting to be able to compete against a program like that in my first game back,”; Horiuchi said.

The Boilermakers are 7-4 going into the Buzz Classic on March 6 in Woodstock, Ga. Purdue won three straight to open the season before suffering consecutive loses by one run each.

“;We've had a lot of close games that didn't go our way, but I think we can make adjustments,”; Horiuchi said. “;Ultimately, I think we have a chance to compete for the Big Ten title and hopefully get back to the postseason.”;

Horiuchi hasn't shown any effects from sitting out a season. She's leading the team in hitting .355 (11-for-31) in 11 games with four doubles, a home run and 11 runs scored. She's also stolen 11 bases in 11 attempts and has an on-base percentage hovering near .500.

She opened the season hitting in the middle of the order, but now bats in the leadoff spot and is giving her power hitters plenty of chances to drive in runs.

“;At Purdue, it's much more of a team effort,”; Horiuchi said, comparing her new team to her old one. “;We don't have one or two players that are very dominating. The whole team has to contribute in order for our program to be successful.”;