After concluding a productive fall, Leisha Li’ili’i approached the holiday season as a bridge rather than a break.
The senior first baseman devoted her winter to following the training program prescribed by strength coach James Chassin. So when the Rainbow Wahine softball team convened for its first official practice of the spring on Tuesday, there was a sense of continuation rather than starting over.
“I think of it as picking up where I left off,” Li’ili’i said after practice. “The workouts during the break really helped out. Coming back just felt like practice was just yesterday.”
Li’ili’i said the plan called for strength training two times a week and conditioning another two days along with regular hitting sessions. She split workouts between UH and Castle High School and would gather friends at a park in Kaneohe to work on defense and hitting to make sure she’s prepared for her final spring.
“I’m taking it a lot more serious being that it’s my last year,” she said. “I regret my other breaks in the past not doing anything. Now I’m coming to the realization that this is it, it’s my last year.”
Li’ili’i said where the fall weight program focused on power, the winter workouts were geared specifically to softball with an emphasis on quickness and explosive movements.
She could feel the benefits in Tuesday’s hitting session and the thought of an even more powerful Li’ili’i in the batter’s box should send a shudder through pitchers on UH’s schedule.
Li’ili’i set career bests in hitting .401 with 15 home runs with a .796 slugging percentage and .523 on-base percentage last season and was a first-team All-Big West and second-team NFCA All-West Region selection.
She’ll return to the clean-up spot in a batting order that took shape around her in the fall.
“The chemistry in the lineup is pretty good, one of the best in my four years,” she said. “Everybody one through nine is dependable and everyone is confident in each other. We just click now.”
UH coach Bob Coolen said he’s pretty set on the top half of the lineup with freshman Rachel Lack slated to hit leadoff and senior catcher Kayla Wartner and junior right fielder Keiki Carlos leading into Li’ili’i and sophomore pitcher/designated player Heather Morales in the middle of the order. Pitcher Kanani Aina Cabrales can also hit for herself when she’s in the circle.
Coolen could still have some decisions to make in the lower half of the order. Kristina Akiona took over at third base in the fall and junior transfer Tayana Mata has established herself as the front runner at second base. Lindsey Willmon, who hit leadoff most of last season, left fielder Ulu Matagiese and shortstop Sarina Jaramillo could give the Wahine pop in the lower half of the order.
“We have the potential of two real power bats in the six, seven, eight area,” Coolen said.
Both Willmon and Lack can play center field or spell Wartner behind the plate. Coolen said Lack, who hit .420 in Australia’s national tournament, could also contribute at third base.
“I want to see where she’s most comfortable,” he said.
By entering the spring with a lineup already established, Coolen said the practices leading up to the Feb. 5 opener against St. Mary’s will focus on fine tuning.
“I’m not searching, looking for someone to emerge,” Coolen said. “I’m settled on a lineup, I know who’s going to play. They’re going to play a lot together, so that first unit’s going to get a lot of reps starting Friday.”
Coolen said he wanted to ease the pitching staff into practice on Tuesday with freshman Brittany Hitchcock joining Aina Cabrales and Morales.
“Today was just sort of getting their arms back,” Coolen said. “I know as a pitcher you don’t come back gangbusters.”