‘No Drama’ Key To UH Season
For Bob Coolen, it’s the best of times. Fresh off his 11,000-plus mile incredible journey with his University of Hawaii Wahine softball team, Coach Coolen reflected on the achievements of their tremendous run to greatness.
“The incredible part was how resilient the team was from weekend to the weekend,” he tells me from his office the day after his return to the Islands from the College World Series in Oklahoma City. “Nothing interfered with our goal. It was an amazing run – winning the WAC Tournament, winning Regionals at Stanford, then the way we won the Super Regionals at Alabama and then getting to the World Series, something that had never been done before. Looking back, I can say I walked on that field with players who showed so much resiliency, fortitude and desire.”
For Coolen, the journey to greatness began in Hawaii 21 years ago when he arrived in the Islands as an assistant coach. Two seasons later, he was the head coach of a team that had a dream. I asked him what he had learned.
“I learned that the goal I set 21 years ago actually was realistic,” he replies. “So many times over the years it kept escaping when we were just a game or so away. I was wondering if we would ever reach it – and now I know it was these 20 amazing athletes who achieved it.”
And the secret to all the success? “The team had incredible chemistry,” he says. “For the first time in my career, there was no drama – no drama at all – not from the players or parents or anyone. That’s a testament to the players.”
After the dramatic victory at No. 1 Alabama, an elated and emotional Coolen told a national television audience that it was the best moment of his life. Later, he amended that statement by noting that the births of his children were right up there, too. But he readily admits that “professionally speaking, this was the pinnacle of my career.”
His wife Nanci, 16-year-old daughter Demi, 14-year-old son Bob, his father Bob Sr. and his sister Diane were all on hand to witness the triumph in Tuscaloosa and the eventual trip to the World Series. When I asked him if there were one or two touching moments from the whole journey that he would treasure most, one of them involved his family, the other, his team.
“I’ll never forget my wife leaping onto the field from the stands after the game,” he says. “She hurdled onto the dugout and then literally jumped over the steps and down to the field. She ran up to me and grabbed me and said, ‘We’re going to Oklahoma City!’ My kids came down a more traditional way, but eventually friends and family members from the team all spilled over the wall, and there were hugs and we all celebrated on the field. The fact that Alabama had the class to let us all do that was very special.”
The other moment came after the Wahine were finally eliminated at the World Series in Oklahoma.
“We have this tradition called the ‘Birthday Oven,’ where players who have a birthday in season are honored by the team,” he says. “Senior Kanani Pu’u-Warren has her birthday in early June, so she had never been able to celebrate with her team-mates. When the game ended, the team rallied around her. ‘I’m getting the birthday oven!’she says, and there were tears everywhere, and she was crying. Our team lined up along the foul line and she crept through their legs like a little kid while her team-mates gave her birthday slaps. During that incredible time, everyone forgot about losing the game. This was about the team.”
For Bob Coolen, it was one of the best moments in the best times in the best year he and his Wahine softball team – and their fans – ever had.