Rainbow Wahine catcher Denise Dahlberg says this season has been "awesome and a huge disappointment all at the same time."

behind the dish

The Rainbow Wahine
sophomore aspires to go
from catching to cooking

By Cindy Luis

Denise Dahlberg will never be accused of being one who "can't stand the heat."

The Arizona native is right at home in the kitchen as well as behind the plate as the Hawaii softball team's catcher. Dahlberg's goals are to go to culinary school, open her own restaurant and, perhaps, have a cooking show on the Food Network.

But what Dahlberg is currently cooking up in "Denise's Dugout" is a recipe to get the Wahine to postseason play. Last year's 35-25 squad missed out "and we don't want to be disappointed again," said the sophomore. "It would just mean that all of the hard work we put in this year was for nothing."

Hawaii (21-16, 2-2 Western Athletic Conference) has a chance to improve its postseason chances when hosting Nevada (17-20, 1-3) in doubleheaders at 6 tonight and 1 p.m. Saturday. The Wolf Pack are in their first year of existence but are not to be taken lightly.

"We're not overlooking Nevada," said Dahlberg. "I try to approach every opponent the same way. I don't look past anyone but I also don't want to feel inferior either on any given day. I focus on what we need to do, not what's going on with the other team."

Hawaii's year has mirrored Dahlberg's movement behind the plate: up and down. Coach Bob Coolen says the Wahine are a Jekyll and Hyde squad and Dahlberg agrees.

"The season has been awesome and a huge disappointment all at the same time," she said. "We've had so many highs and so many lows. It's frustrating. I'm constantly wondering what team we'll be the next day.

"I don't know what it is. I don't know why we do it."

But her teammates are the perfect case study for Dahlberg, a psychology major. She admits to over-analyzing the situation and second-guessing herself and others.

"It's one of my faults," Dahlberg said. "Even when I watch a pro baseball game, I'm thinking, 'Why did you do that?' "

Some questioned why Dahlberg would leave the heat of Arizona for the humidity of Hawaii. She said it was an easy decision for someone who enjoys sleeping on the beach.

"Mostly, it was Bob (Coolen) and the way he recruited me," said Dahlberg, the MVP of her Desert Vista High team in Phoenix. "Other coaches were very rude, saying if I talked to other schools, they'd drop me. That's not cool. Bob came out and said that taking other visits was fine with him, just to let him know what I was doing. I liked that.

"I thought about Arizona State, it's like 10 minutes from home, but I never looked at U of A (Arizona). I would have loved to play at that high level, but I didn't want to go to a school just because they're awesome. I wanted to go somewhere I could contribute."

Dahlberg has done just that since arriving at the Manoa campus last year. She earned All-WAC first-team honors last season, playing mostly in the outfield.

But she enjoys catching more. It was the position Coolen recruited her for.

"She's really accepted it as her position," said the Wahine coach. "I thought I'd platoon her with Kea (junior Yamaguchi) but once Denise took over the role in the fall, showed she wanted the job full-time, it was hers.

"She had the enthusiasm to learn all three of our pitchers. She still likes to roam the outfield, so we put her out there occasionally to get away from that constant up, down, up, down. She is a very good catcher, the catcher I thought she'd develop into. She has one of the strongest arms behind the dish in the country and she's gained the respect of other teams by how strong her arm is."

Catcher is the perfect position for Dahlberg for two reasons. She likes to be in control and she likes getting dirty.

"Sure there are days when I don't like putting on the gear, but when you catch, you're involved in everything," she said. "You're in every pitch. If I'm not calling the pitch I'm calling the signals to the team. I like being in charge and I don't like standing around.

"And, since I was little, I have always been dirty. We had this huge field behind our house and when it would rain, we would play in the mud. I like getting dirty and if I'm not after a game, obviously I haven't played hard that day."

Soccer, not softball, was Dahlberg's sport until around eighth grade. Then a friend asked if she'd come fill out the roster for a weekend tournament.

"Ever since then, softball has been a huge part of my life," she said. "I wasn't attracted to the sport until I started playing. I never expected to pay for college. I knew if I worked hard, it would happen. Softball got me here."

Dahlberg misses the dry heat of Arizona and good Mexican food. But she enjoys playing for the Wahine.

"I like our team a lot," she said. "We have a good rapport. Our team likes to have fun, but they don't always have fun when they're playing. If we are out there having a good time, we can kick anyone.

"Sometimes they're either too intense or too relaxed. You've got to find your medium."

Dahlberg is pretty happy with her game at the moment. She's thrown out 15 of 25 runners on steal attempts and is second on the team in putouts (138) while committing two errors in 35 games.

What she'd like to work on is her hitting. Dahlberg is batting .221, down from last season's .312, but she has three homers already, compared to just one last year.

"I think defensively I'm doing a good job," she said. "Our pitchers don't usually shake off what I call. And Coach does a good job of scouting the opponents. He doesn't call the game. He gives me their tendencies, if they hit inside pitches, if they hit changeups.

"He plays a big part of my decision making, but he never makes the decisions for me. And I appreciate that."

UH Athletics

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