Star-Bulletin Sports

Thursday, April 22, 1999

W A H I N E _ S O F T B A L L

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
During the summer, pitcher Kelly Gentle trained at Thai
kickboxing in her native Australia to add strength and endurance.

Gentle is a Giant

The Wahine pitcher enters
the final homestand with several
school records in hand

By Pat Bigold


IF Hawaii's team batting average hadn't dropped 60 points between last year and this year, Kelly Gentle might be approaching her third straight 20-win season.

She's only looking for victory No. 14 as she enters the final homestand of her sensational Wahine softball career this weekend against San Jose State.

But the 5-foot-8 Australian right-hander, who holds the school record for career wins (75-37), is more dangerous than ever to opposing batters.

Wahine head coach Bob Coolen said Gentle had to pitch smarter to overcome relatively little run support.

But he's fascinated with the source of her extra power and flexibility.

"Over the summer back home, I took up Thai kickboxing with my boyfriend," said Gentle. "It made me stronger in the legs. It gave me more endurance because if you do an hour class, you're sucking air for the whole time."

The kickboxing gym is only 10 minutes from her home in Toongabbie, New South Wales, but it took boyfriend Brett Boyton a while to convince Gentle she should try his hobby.

"He kept saying, 'You gotta come and try it,' and I was saying, 'I don't want to do it. I don't want to do it!' But he insisted, so..."

She quickly became addicted to it, and went every night with Boyton. She started with one class a night before bumping her regimen up to two workouts a night.

Gentle sparred with women and men. She found herself overpowering even black belt women.

"When you spar with guys, sometimes they'll go pretty hard, and you just have to take it," she said. "But because I could kick harder than the other girls, I was able to give it back somewhat."

She said Boyton asked her how she'd feel about him starting to look for bouts, and she asked him the same question.

"Somewhere down the road, but not right away," she said.

Gentle said her rookie mistakes included stepping into face punches.

"But now, I think if I got hit in the face by a ball, I would just brush it off," she said with a laugh.

"I think it's made her more flexible, and it's helped her because last year she had some shoulder problems," said Coolen.

"She came back in a lot better shape and stronger. Her hitting is better. She's a lot more confident out there in a year when she knows she has to lead by example."

Junior catcher Dana Degen said she's noticed a difference in Gentle's aggressiveness and the snap in her delivery.

That's saying a lot because last year she was already known to smoke 'em in the mid-60-mph range and was selected by the Akron Racers in the 1998 Women's Professional Softball League draft.

Degen said batters have less reaction time because of Gentle's speed.

And, she said, Gentle is more deceptive than any American pitcher she knows. As she starts her windup, the Australian dips low enough to brush her glove over her left foot, then rises quickly to deliver a blazing fling to the plate.

"That's unique to Australia," said Coolen. "(Former Wahine) Brooke (Wilkins) had the dip. But not all of them do it. All it is, is a rhythm. And it really knocks the batter off because they have to watch the whole rhythm before the release of the pitch. And there's nothing illegal about it."

With only five games left before the WAC tournament begins May 13, Gentle knows 20 wins is out of reach.

"I'm going to miss that, but as long as we get to the postseason and attain our goals, it won't matter as much," said Gentle.

There are plenty of memories.

As she finishes her career, she owns Hawaii records for wins, games pitched, games started, games completed and saves.

Gentle recently blanked San Diego State twice, giving her 27 shutouts for her career and earning her WAC Pitcher of the Week honors for the fifth time in her career.

After she graduates in communications this August, Gentle will return to Australia to work in telecommunications and play for her New South Wales state team.

The Olympics might be in her future, as it was for Wilkins, but Gentle, who turns 22 on May 26, knows she has plenty of time to think about that.

"I want to take a year or so off and just play for my state team, so I can enjoy being with my family again, and my boyfriend," said Gentle.

She said she'll miss Hawaii. "I love the beach, but at home it takes me 45 minutes to drive there," she said. "But here, it takes like 2 minutes to get to Waikiki."

And there are no sharks.

But she won't be out of touch with the university.

She said she might even come back to see roommate Raylene Howard's last basketball game next season.

And she plans to help Coolen maintain his pipeline to Down Under talent.

"I will help him find out about anybody he needs to know about, and I'll tell him about anyone I think he might be interested in," said Gentle.

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