Wright On: New Waiakea softball coach welcomes high expectations

  • Melissa Pang is a math teacher at Waiakea, and she knows history is on the side of the Waiakea softball program she's taking over.

Nobody keeps track of such things in high school, college or the professional ranks, but there’s a common understanding that when a new coach takes over an athletic program, there’s a good chance that not everything has gone well.

It stands to reason that if the record is good, and everyone’s happy, barring retirement, why make a change?

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In that respect, with a new coach in a struggling situation, expectations aren’t too high. Some modest improvement is a good thing. Patience is understood.

But when a new coach comes into a team with a history of success, it’s a different reality. Can you match up? Can you maintain a high level of success? Can you prevent a backward slide?

Welcome to Waiakea High School softball, Melissa Pang, a mathematics teacher at the school, installed as the Warriors head coach in November.

She replaces the redoubtable Bo Saiki, who resigned last year after the school received some complaints — apparently just a few — from parents. A big man with a gruff appearance, Saiki was the kind of guy who occasionally barked at his players. He was also the kind of guy who championed Title IX and would raise heck over the lack of facilities — bathrooms, concessions and such — for girls softball that were always present for baseball.

In his time, Saiki’s teams recorded 161 wins against 25 losses (no records from his first year, 2006 when the team was a BIIF runner-up and qualified for the state tournament). In all, he coached 10 teams to the state tournament. In a stretch of 59 games from 2007 through 2012, Saiki’s squads were undefeated in BIIF competition. His 2019 team went 12-4 and lost a play-in game to the state tournament, but that hardly diminished his record.

So, one might call it a daunting legacy that Pang, a former standout, workhorse-type pitcher at Bishop Amat Memorial High School in Los Angeles County, takes over this season.

She’s OK with that.

“I want this team to be the absolute best it can be, the fact that the history here is strong, to me, is a good thing,” she said. “Let’s pick up where we left off and keep it going.

“Expectations are interesting, because everyone has their opinions, and I’m fine with that, but for me, my personal expectations are always going to be high, like, way up there. If it was a team that had been on the low end of things, my expectations would still be high. I like being a part of a team with a good track record, that’s what we want.”

A third-year teacher at the school, Pang played collegiately at Chaminade and has adjusted to the softball profile on the Big Island, which is a notch or two below what it is on Oahu, which she credits to the wider availability of youth programs.

“I’ve noticed on Oahu, from a very young age, there are a lot of club teams and camps and those kind of things that are wider spread than they are here, and I think that has a lot to do with the population. I have to think on Oahu, with so many more people, there’s a bigger demand.

“We have them here,” she said, of youth cubs and camps, “we just don’t have the large volume of them that there are on Oahu. Younger kids can still get involved here, though, and maybe there’s a chance we can help expand that over time.”

Pang sounds like someone who will push and prod players to excel, as opposed to the coaching profile of accepting what’s there, and just going with it. She wants more.

“I would say my core belief has to do with wanting (her players) to be better people when it’s all over. I want them to understand that there will be tough times, situations in which you have to fight through things, and things aren’t always going to go your way, but you need dig down, get focused on what you can do to succeed, that’s the approach that turns the bad into good, and that’s something you can take with you after softball, after being a part of our team.”

Her high school was, and is, an always relevant squad in most every sport with dozens of players who received full-ride scholarships to major universities all over the country. There’s a tradition for the Lancers that seems to ennoble them in athletics on both the boys and girls side.

It was there that Pang developed her pitching ability on a division championship team at a place that has won nine league championships, reached the CIF runner-up position three times and made it to the CIF semi-finals three times.

She knows how to pitch, she teaches players where and how to generate velocity, how to make the ball break and how to confuse batters.

“You never want them feeling comfortable at the plate,” she said, “you want them guessing at what comes next and then you want to give them something they aren’t looking for.

“Probably, the first week or so (junior varsity starts up this week), I’ll be taking a close look at what they do, how they pitch, you know, standing tall, elbows in, all those things, and then we’ll see if there’s room for suggestions, little tweaks here and there, whatever it might be.

“In fast pitch, it’s a more natural motion for the body, not as challenging as pitching in baseball, but there are still a lot of things you can do improve, to build on a good base.”

The past, you could say, is history, of course, but for the new coach at Waiakea, it’s all good history that fits nicely with her approach.

“I want to win,” she said, “I want these girls to compete with anybody, anybody on this island or any island, compete all the time.

“We want to win the BIIF, for starters, of course, that’s a goal starting out, eventually I want this program to be state champions, and there’s no reason we can’t do it once we get started.”

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The starting line approaches, off they go.

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