June 1, 2010

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By Christopher Walsh
Special to NCAA.com

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - University of Hawaii softball coach Bob Coolen doesn't really scout the opposition unless it's convenient, says he believes it really isn't ethical to get help from other coaches during the postseason and informs his pitchers the morning of games who will start via a text message.

While that all may be considered somewhat unconventional, there's nearly nothing typical about the team that eliminated top-seeded Alabama in dramatic fashion last weekend and will play No. 9 Missouri in the Women's College World Series beginning Thursday in Oklahoma City.

"I try not to over-coach my athletes," Coolen said. "I try not to get in their faces to tell them what they're not doing. They make the adjustments, both at the plate and in the field.

"If they don't get it by now they're not going to be on the field. That's the way we look at it"

A quick glimpse at the roster tells how unique the 16th-seeded Rainbow Wahine (49-14) are compared to the rest of the WCWS field. While most hail from the home state or California, for every player one would expect there's another who stands out.

For example, catcher Katie Grimes is from Tampa, Fla., the reserves include transfers from St. John's University and UC-Colorado Springs, and one starting pitcher is from Australia, although that's actually nothing new for Hawaii.

"My mom had always told me if you go to Hawaii, I'll go over there with you and I'll do you schoolwork and you can just play softball," freshman Kaia Parnaby said. "So when Coach Bob approached me, she actually told him that that was the plan."

Joking aside, that's when she got serious about her future in the sport.

"I thought why not give it a go? I love it."

The coach himself is from Somerville, Mass., and went to Wesleyan University. Shortly after Hawaii founded its program in 1985 he was hired as an assistant coach to Rayla Allison. Coolen held that position for two season before being promoted in 1992, right around the time most of his current players were being born.

"I remember interviewing for the job and I was given three years to turn it around," he said.

It took all three plus Brooke Wilkins, who was twice named the WAC pitcher of the year. During that turning-point season, 1994, Hawaii posted a school-record 51 wins, won the conference championship and earned its first bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The Rainbow Wahine finished one win shy of reaching the World College World Series--a hurdle it took another 16 years to finally clear.

It also took the biggest home run in program history, which is really saying something because Hawaii hits a ton of home runs. Junior Jenna Rodriguez delivered a two-run walk-off shot down the left-base line as the Rainbow Wahine were down to their final out in Tuscaloosa.

The coach would probably say it was reminiscent of Carlton Fisk's famous blast for the Boston Red Sox in 1975.

"I always wanted to go to Hawaii in the very beginning but things didn't work out," said Rodriguez, who won the junior college national championship last year for Yavapai College. "I contacted Coach Bob, I had a friend on the team and we just made it happen. Everything worked out great."

The cleanup hitter contributed to the most potent lineup in NCAA history, which has already hit a record 154 home runs this season. The Rainbow Wahine have outscored opponents 488-198, and boast eight players with more than 10 home runs and five with 50-plus RBIs.

"We work really hard in the weight room," freshman center fielder Kelly Majam said. "We definitely stepped up our strength and conditioning this year and I think that has a really big part in it. We're a lot stronger."

Against Alabama, which finished the Super Regional with more runs (19-13) and hits (27-16), Majam hit .500 (3-for-6), improved her batting average to .407 and reached base seven times over the three games.

"I knew Kelly was a special player," Coolen said. "She was recruited by a lot of high-power, SEC, Big 12, BCS programs"

She also hit her 30th home run, which leads the nation, and got on base to set up Rodriguez's shot to eliminate the Crimson Tide.

"I think it is kind of like follow the leader," junior third baseman Melissa Gonzalez said. "When someone is doing well, we all seem to be doing well, and I think that is what has really been helping us this year. We have a great leadoff batter, and then after that it is kind of like follow the leader."