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Coolen gets to relax ... just a little


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POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When Bob Coolen finally allowed himself a deep exhale, the tension he'd been carrying over the last few months became painfully evident.

"(Monday) I took a breath and I was sore all over," the Hawaii softball coach said.

While the stress of the season left his muscles in knots, he'd have gladly endured another week if it meant the Rainbow Wahine had earned a spot in the NCAA regionals.

               

     

 

What if…

        Hawaii lost 10 games by one run, including five against nationally- ranked opponents.
       

Date, Result
       
» Feb. 6: No. 19 LSU, 6-5
        » Feb. 7: No. 19 LSU, 6-5 (9 innings)
        » Feb. 14: Oregon, 3-2
        » Feb. 19: Maryland, 3-2
        » Feb. 20: No. 9 Tennessee., 3-2
        » Feb. 21: No. 1 Alabama, 1-0 (8 innings)
        » March 6: Florida Gulf Coast, 5-4
        » March 27: Nevada, 6-5 (8 innings)
        » April 3: No. 22 Fresno State, 2-1
        » April 17: San Jose State, 5-4

       

But UH's run for a third straight postseason berth fell short, leaving Coolen and the Wahine to reflect on the season just completed and look ahead to the prospects for next spring.

It's been less than a week since the Wahine closed a 30-24 season with a loss to Nevada in the Western Athletic Conference tournament, and Coolen has already shifted the names on the board hanging on his office wall to reflect the changes in the lineup left by the departure of eight players.

His hours will soon be filled by recruiting as the coaches work to restock the roster. He's also been busy sprucing up Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium for the state high school tournament being held on campus this week.

When considering the season past, 10 one-run losses left Coolen contemplating the "what ifs" of the season.

The Wahine opened with an upset of Oklahoma, then lost 11 of their next 13. They chased the .500 mark until mid-April and made a 15-4 run—starting with a 16-inning win at Fresno State—to finish third in the WAC, a half-game behind Fresno State and Nevada.

But a 1-2 showing at the WAC tournament ended the season and it wasn't long before thoughts of how next year's team will come together started to consume Coolen's attention.

"We have some pukas in our lineup," he said.

Filling out a lineup card without Clare Warwick at third base and Tanisha Milca in right field will take some getting used to.

Milca was Hawaii's leading hitter at .349. She also hit 13 home runs to move into third place on the program's career home run chart with 34. Warwick hit .328 over her four years as UH's starting third baseman.

"It's tough to lose a former All-American like Clare Warwick. It's tough to lose a four-year starter like Tanisha," Coolen said. "That's the life of a college coach."

Although a sizable senior class takes a chunk of production and depth with it, the season also signaled the emergence of youngsters who will be counted on heavily next season.

Freshman Stephanie Ricketts wasn't expected to make much of an impact, but became the team's top pitcher on an early-season road trip and ended her first collegiate season at 22-11 with a 1.81 earned-run average, two no-hitters, and the WAC freshman of the year award.

"I don't think Stephanie knew how good she was," Coolen said.

As the Wahine look to add depth to the staff, Coolen said Ricketts, a powerful hitter, will also be given a chance to contribute with the bat next season.

Along with Ricketts, fellow freshmen Dara Pagaduan and Makani Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu also return after establishing roles as regulars in the lineup. Pagaduan hit .274 while starting 37 games at second base. Duhaylonsod-Kaleimamahu walked on in the fall and finished third on the team at .298 with seven home runs.

The Wahine also return All-WAC first baseman Amanda Tauali'i, who hit .338 and led the Wahine with 15 homers. Center fielder Kanani Pu'u-Warren enjoyed a productive WAC season, hitting a team-high .340 in conference play.

Trying to anticipate how the pieces will mesh next spring sends Coolen into the summer with a mixture of excitement and anxiety ... and without much time for relaxation.