UH awaits new field, better luck in ’18
If Bob Coolen’s knock-onwood hopes hold true, last week’s senior night game will be the last on Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium’s current field. Planned renovations to the home of the University of Hawaii softball team for next season include the installation of synthetic turf in the outfield and surrounding the dirt infield, padded fencing and extended netting to provide added protection for the neighboring tennis and beach volleyball courts from home runs and foul balls.
“I’m just hoping everything goes according to plan and we have the right weather for it,” Coolen said after the finale to his 26th season as UH head coach. Bids are due on Monday and work on the project — covered by $3.5 million in upgrades approved by the legislature — is slated to start in early June with a targeted finish in December, according to Teri Chang, UH assistant athletics director for facilities and events management.
In the meantime, Coolen is exploring alternate sites to hold the team’s fall practices and exhibition tournament in October and the Wahine are slated to break in the new field when spring practices commence in January.
Amid the upcoming construction work, the Rainbow Wahine will look to build on a 2017 season that started with promise before their postseason hopes faded in Big West play. UH won 13 of their last 15 nonconference games to enter the league schedule at 21-10 and No. 52 in the NCAA ratings percentage index, second among teams in the Big West. The Wahine held serve at home early in conference play, but an 0-8 start on the road all but eliminated them from contention.
The Wahine closed the season at 29-23 overall and 8-13 in Big West play, leaving the Rainbow Wahine seventh in the conference standings, at No. 84 in the RPI and short of the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.
“It was just really frustrating that we never really got going once the (Big West) season started,” said Coolen, who passed the 1,000-win mark for his career on March 4.
UH finished eight games behind Big West champion Cal State Fullerton, coinciding with eight conference losses decided by a single run. Three road losses, including two at Fullerton, ended on walk-off hits. “Hungry is just the brink of it,” UH pitcher Brittany Hitchcock said of her outlook for next season. “Even this year I felt we really had a good chance coming in and you could see how close it all was. … So we were there with everybody and definitely have the talent to do it, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.” Hitchcock will enter her senior season among the Big West’s top returning pitchers after going 19-12 with a 1.85 earned-run average and a career-high 169 strikeouts against 28 walks. She was named to the AllBig West first team along with sophomore third baseman Nicole Lopez and senior first baseman Heather Morales and earned thirdteam All-West Region honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
Lopez hit a team-high .331 and finished second in the conference with 12 home runs. The Wahine are slated to return eight of the top nine hitters from a lineup that ranked second in the Big West with a team batting average of .283 and 43 home runs.
“We have the firepower,” Coolen said. “Obviously we’re going to miss Heather’s bat, but hopefully we can replace it and go from there.”
Coolen’s current contract expires this summer and athletic director David Matlin said during the season that “the intentions on both sides are there” to iron out a multi-year extension.
UH coach Bob Coolen clapped from the dugout against Charleston Southern at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. The stadium will get an upgrade, with installation of synthetic turf in the outfield and surrounding the dirt infield.