Some of the kinks inherent in a major renovation were still being worked out on Friday, but the University of Hawaii softball team remained eager for Sunday’s soft opening of its revamped ballpark.
UH will christen Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium’s new playing surface with an exhibition doubleheader with Josai University of Tokyo starting at 1 p.m. Along with the opportunity to show off some of RWSS’s new features, the doubleheader will serve as a dress rehearsal for the Wahine before embarking on a 12-day season-opening road trip.
“I think that’ll be super big because the only games we played were back in fall and just scrimmaging each other,” UH third baseman Nicole Lopez said. “So to open up with Josai and just to play someone other than ourselves and see pitching other than our own pitchers will be really good taking us into Vegas.”
UH officially opens the season on Thursday against No. 19 BYU in the Marucci Desert Classic hosted by UNLV. The Wahine will play six games in four days in Las Vegas before heading to Los Angeles for a tournament hosted by Loyola Marymount.
While much of the country opened the season this weekend, UH coach Bob Coolen built in some cushion on the front end of the schedule due to the construction work at RWSS. Along with starting a week later than usual, the Wahine begin the season on the road for the first time since 2002. They’ll play their first regular-season home game on Feb. 28 against California in the Texaco Malihini Kipa Aloha Tournament.
The new-look RWSS features artificial turf in the outfield — with the H logo imprinted into centerfield — and surrounding the dirt infield. Padded fencing was installed around the field and protective netting now extends to the ends of the grandstands, which were also given a fresh coat of paint. The netting beyond center field is also higher to better protect the tennis courts.
The infield itself is one of the remaining issues. The top soil that was mixed into the surface included small rocks, necessitating a team-wide hunt before practices. Coolen said the work on the field will continue while the team is on the road.
While last minute adjustments to the field continue, Coolen is looking forward to seeing how the newly constructed UH lineup performs under game conditions on Sunday.
“It’ll let us see what our lineup is going to do. … Are they gamers or are they practice people or have they not shown us in practice and they’re going to become a gamer? I don’t know yet,” Coolen said.
“We usually know what type of team we are going on the road. We really don’t know.”
During the heavy construction work at RWSS, the Wahine practiced across Lower Campus Road at Les Murakami Stadium and up University Avenue at Mid-Pacific Institute before the field was cleared for use on Jan. 17. They’ll get their first on-field test against a Josai team that Coolen said won its division in Japan last season.
UH’s pitching rotation starts with seniors Brittany Hitchcock and Dana Thomsen. Hitchcock went 19-12 with a 1.85 earned-run average and was named first-team All-Big West last season. Thomsen got out to a 6-2 start last season before struggling in Big West play and finished 8-7 with a 2.59 ERA. Coolen also plans to get a look at freshmen Emily Klee and Dominique Martinez.
They’ll have experience behind the plate with the return of junior Heather Cameron (.283, 3 HR, 19 RBI) and sophomore Callee Heen (.275, 9 HR, 30 RBI). The Wahine also feature a decorated left side of the infield with Lopez (.331, 12 HR, 32 RBI), a first-team All-Big West pick, at third and sophomore shortstop Angelique Ramos (.310, 6 HR, 17 RBI), last season’s BWC freshman of the year.
The right side will have a new look following the graduation of first baseman Heather Morales and second baseman Sarah Muzik’s transfer to Colorado State. Alyssa Sojka, a transfer from Santiago Canyon College, is the early leader at second while senior Rachael Turner and freshman Madison Veldman are competing for the job at first.
UH returns its starting outfield of seniors Jordian Hicks (.164) in left and Danielle Garcielita (.323, .371 obp) in center and sophomore Chardonnay Pantastico (.233 overall, .333 BWC) in right. Pantastico, Heen and Ramos were Big West all-freshman team selections last season.