Just about year ago, Nicole Lopez was one of the promising freshmen stepping onto Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium’s dirt infield for her first Division I practice.
On Monday, she was one of the returnees eager to welcome another group of newcomers to the field.
“Pretty stoked actually,” Lopez said of the opening day of fall practice, “especially because we have a bunch of new girls.”
The Rainbow Wahine opened practice with 11 new players — six freshmen and five transfers — and several will be in the mix to contribute early in their UH careers.
Lopez took over at third base last fall and ended the spring as UH’s leading hitter at .287 and with Big West Freshman Field Player of the Year honors. While Lopez solidified the spot last year, most of the other positions on the field are up for grabs going into the spring.
UH coach Bob Coolen said all three outfield spots and both middle infield positions are open going into the fall. Freshmen Laura Jaquez, Angelique Ramos and Chardonnay Pantastico are among the contenders in the middle infield along with sophomore Sarah Muzik, who spent most her freshman year in left field. The Wahine have experience at first base with the return of senior Heather Morales and junior Rachael Turner.
Senior Ulu Matagiese and sophomores Jennifer Iseri and Alia Monges started games in the outfield last season, but freshman Bree Soma and transfers Jordian Hicks and Danielle Garcielita will push for playing time.
The pitching staff returns its core of senior Kanani Aina Cabrales and junior Brittany Hitchcock. Iseri made eight starts last year and Naomi Monahan saw spot duty in three appearances. Dana Thomsen joins the staff as a junior-college transfer as well as freshman Briana Wheeler.
Heather Cameron started 29 games behind the plate as a freshman and Callee Heen and Santa Clara transfer Justine Garner will compete as well.
While there will be an emphasis on fundamentals and teaching, Coolen said the fall will also be a time of assessment. He said the Wahine will have a full scrimmage with umpires on Friday.
“We’re going to get into a lot of scrimmaging,” Coolen said. “We have to figure out who our better hitters are and get them in the lineup.”
The Wahine have 3 1/2 weeks of practice before hosting the Kama’aina Tournament Nov. 4-5. They’ll close the tournament with the alumni game and face UH Hilo on Nov. 12 on Maui.
The Wahine entered the fall practice with 25 players, but Coolen said he plans to get the roster down to 20 after the Maui trip.