Even with opening day still four weeks away, Kanani Aina Cabrales can sense the clock ticking.
“I’ve really thought about it this semester, that this will be my last semester playing college softball with all my girls and I just feel I need to give it 100 percent with every pitch, every swing and every play in practice and in games,” Aina Cabrales said.
The Rainbow Wahine opened practice for the spring season on Monday, one month ahead of their season-opening Paradise Classic doubleheader against Sacramento State and Boise State on Feb. 9.
Aina Cabrales, first baseman Heather Morales and outfielder Ulu Matagiese comprise a senior class that leads a 23-player UH roster that includes 10 newcomers into the season.
The Wahine added five freshmen and five transfers to the program in the fall with several slated for significant roles this spring as UH works to improve on a 24-30 2016 season.
“I think fall was just to learn each other and see what kind of players we are,” Aina Cabrales said. “As seniors and leaders of the team I feel like it was a good learning experience for us to get to know our players more as individuals and as athletes to know how to push them. I’m really excited for the spring season. I really feel our team chemistry is really going to benefit us in the end.”
UH coach Bob Coolen enters his 26th season with experience in the pitching staff and an evolving offensive outlook.
Aina Cabrales (8-11, 3.45 earned-run average last season) and junior Brittany Hitchcock (13-15, 2.18) return for their third season leading the pitching staff.
“I’ve challenged both (Aina Cabrales) and Britt. Both of them can be 20-game winners,” Coolen said.
The wildcard could be junior transfer Dana Thomsen, who averaged 9.4 strikeouts per seven innings her sophomore year at Santa Rosa Junior College. She sat out last season at Santa Rosa while working toward Division I eligibility and is clear to pitch this spring.
“She’s also a riseball pitcher and has a lot of movement,” Aina Cabrales said. “In our scrimmages in the fall I was batting against her and got to see how her pitches move and I think she will be a great asset.”
Sophomore third baseman Nicole Lopez (.287, 5 HR, 23 RBIs) returns to the middle of the batting order after earning Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year honors. Morales went 11-for-15 with 16 RBIs, three doubles and four home runs against Chaminade, BYU-Hawaii and the UH alumnae in the fall Kama’aina Tournament.
Danielle Garcielita, a transfer from North Carolina, took over in center field in the fall and is slated for the leadoff spot followed by sophomore second baseman Sarah Muzik, who split last season between left field and shortstop while hitting .284. With Lopez entrenched at third, freshman Angelique “Cheeks” Ramos shifted over to join the competition at shortstop along with freshman Laura Jaquez and Campbell graduate Chardonnay Pantastico.
Freshman Bree Soma, an All-State selection at Maryknoll, and junior-college transfer Jordian Hicks are in contention for the corner outfield spots.
Hicks stole 32 bases while helping Santiago Canyon College win the California state championship last season and with Garcielita and Muzik at the top of the lineup, Coolen is looking to use the running game more with this lineup than with previous power-based teams.
“We have to be able to do a lot more base stealing,” Coolen said. “We can’t be that team that never steals a base, and that’s our MO. Everyone knows we’re not going to go out there stealing bases and we have to change that.”
Sophomore Heather Cameron and freshman Callee Heen shared catching duties in the fall.
Based on their fall performances, Coolen awarded scholarships for the spring to Hicks, Garcielita and junior first baseman Rachael Turner, who started 37 games last season.