Suddenly, Everyone’s A Softball Fan

UH shortstop Jessica Iwata of Lihue has been chosen for the U.S. national Futures team


Before this season, I wouldn’t even be able to name one softball player from the Olympics – or the collegiate ranks, for that matter.

And that’s coming from a self-proclaimed sports fanatic.

Not even one.

But after catching glimpses of the UH Wahine softball team’s magical season, it became apparent my awareness of the sport now revolves around the number one.

Yes, No. 1, as in Lihue’s own Jessica Iwata. You see, she proudly wears that number for the Wahine softball squad. She not only caught my attention, but that of many others here and across the country as well.

Last month, the slick-fielding shortstop was named to the USA Softball Women’s Futures National Team.

She captured that high honor on the heels of taking home the Western Athletic Conference’s player of the year award.

Her statistics mirror those of a seasoned veteran, with a robust .367 batting average to go along with 18 homers and 58 RBIs.

But if you think she’s only a one-dimensional player, think again. The 2009 Kauai High School graduate also is a steady fielder, as evidenced in her ESPN SportsCenter Top 10-worthy play at short against Arizona.

But it was that tremendous play that took her out of the World Series for good with an injured leg, and it also would prove to be the end of the Cinderella season for the Wahine, who needed a win to avoid elimination.

Still, it was an unforget-table run for a freshman.

And for Iwata, there are three more years to go. Wahine head coach Bob Coolen is surely ecstatic about Iwata’s quick rise to stardom. He admitted he wasn’t expecting such a performance from her this year.

Kaua‘i’s Jocelyn Enrique leads the celebration after UH pitcher Stephanie Rickets (10) got the final out in a 3-2 win over Missouri at the World Series

The former Raider five-sport star prep athlete

wasn’t expecting it either. But tell that to the boys she played baseball with and against in the youth ranks on the Garden Isle.

She was not only playing with them, she was excelling against them as well. To go along with her talents on the field is her cool, yet confident demeanor.

During an interview shortly after arriving back in Honolulu from the World Series, she seemed pretty adamant that this season was no fluke.

“We’re coming back next year, that’s for sure,” she said.

With that kind of positive attitude, it’s no wonder she wore No 1.

Who knows? Maybe she’ll help lead the Rainbows to that top spot after coming oh-so-close in 2010.

But even if that never happens, I’ll still be a fan, and that’s something I couldn’t say just a few months ago before Iwata and her team swooped up the imagination and hopes of all who rooted for the Wahine.

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