Big West softball coaches voted Hawaii fifth in the conference’s preseason poll released on Wednesday.
The Rainbow Wahine open the season Feb. 9 with a Paradise Classic doubleheader against Sacramento State and Boise State. UH will also face Oregon State and UAB in the three-day tournament.
A young Rainbow Wahine team went 24-30 overall last season and finished seventh in the Big West at 8-13. Junior right-hander Brittany Hitchcock was an All-Big West second-team pick for the second straight season with a 7-7 record and 1.72 earned-run average in conference play while finishing at 13-15 overall with a 2.18 ERA. Senior Kanani Aina Cabrales (8-11, 3.45) also returns for her third season in the starting rotation with UH adding junior-college transfer Dana Thomsen to the staff.
Third baseman Nicole Lopez led UH at the plate last season at .287 and was named the Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year. She tied for the team lead with 23 RBIs and hit five home runs, the most memorable being her eighth-inning walk-off blast against Cal Poly on senior day.
Second baseman Sarah Muzik joined Lopez on the Big West All-Freshman team after hitting .284. Senior first baseman Heather Morales, who led UH at .331 as a sophomore and hit .291 in Big West play last year, returns to the middle of the order.
Defending Big West champion Cal State Fullerton topped the poll with 57 points and four first-place votes.
Long Beach State, which earned an at-large bid to the NCAA regionals last season, followed with 55 points and received three first-place votes. The final first-place vote went to Cal Poly, which placed fourth behind Cal State Northridge.
1. Cal State Fullerton (4) 57
2. Long Beach State (3) 55
3. Cal State Northridge 49
4. Cal Poly (1) 40
5. Hawaii 30
6. UC Santa Barbara 27
7. UC Riverside 17
8. UC Davis 13
>> The USA Today/NFCA Division I coaches poll and ESPN.com/USA Softball poll were released this week. UH will face No. 9 Oregon twice in the Bank of Hawaii Invitational set for Feb. 23-26. No. 17/18 Utah visits for the Outrigger Spring Fling Tournament March 8-11.
Oregon State and Cal State Fullerton also received votes in both polls.