Mana Wahine Wednesday: Hawai’i softball alum Jenna (Rodriguez) DiPrima

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAY 1, 2024

HONOLULU – “The first pitch to Jenna Rodriguez is pulled down the left field line, if it’s fair, it’s over! The game ends on a walk-off home run for Jenna Rodriguez.” 

That was the call from ESPN play-by-play announcer Cara Capuano as more than 3,000 fans in Tuscaloosa and thousands more on television watched the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine softball team stun the Alabama Crimson Tide with a walk-off, two-run home run to send UH to the 2010 Women’s College World Series. 

14 years later, the now-married Jenna (Rodriguez) DiPrima will return to the islands with much of that 2010 roster as the group is inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor as part of the 2024 class. It’s a deserving honor for a team and player that provided one of the most electrifying moments in the history of college softball with her second home run off of SEC Pitcher of the Year Kelsi Dunne in a pivotal win-or-go-home Game 3 of the 2010 NCAA Super Regional during Hawai’i softball’s first and only run to the NCAA Women’s College World Series tournament. 

The versatile piece for the Rainbow Wahine drove in all five runs in UH’s stunning walk-off win over national #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa as part of a 3-for-4 day out of the clean-up spot, continuing to provide a steady presence for a team that set an NCAA-record at the time for most home runs in a single season with 158 long balls. The 2021 Oklahoma Sooners, led by James Campbell High School alum Jocelyn Alo, broke that mark with 161 home runs. 

That success was built on an identity of a team that worked hard behind the scenes and worked even harder as a group. It was part of their identity, with Jenna (Rodriguez) DiPrima serving as a prime example. 

Coming from a junior college, the utility player had to work for an opportunity to crack the lineup and prove herself as she jumped to her dream of playing at the Division I level.  

“Going into a program knowing you have to earn a spot … I really wanted to play, and I did whatever it took,” the 2011 UH alum said of her defensive versatility when she arrived in the islands. “I definitely put in a lot of extra time as well and I grabbed teammates that would work alongside and put in those extra hours, too.” 

While putting in the time to improve, the team grew an undeniable chemistry – one that head coach Bob Coolen said was the key factor pushing the team through the invisible barrier and into the program’s first Women’s College World Series appearance.  

With a deep group of talented hitters, DiPrima said that the Rainbow Wahine knew they could rely on each other for the days that someone might not have their best swing. With that comfort that someone else could do the job, it made it easier for every player to get comfortable in the box – no matter who was on the mound. 

That proved to be an important trait for that critical Game 3 versus Alabama when facing a multi-time All-American pitcher in Kelsi Dunne. With the season hanging in the balance, DiPrima remembers the conversation being just one thing. 

“We weren’t ready to go home, we weren’t ready to call it a season,” she said the team confirmed to each other ahead of that do-or-die game. “We deserved to play on that field, with that team, and we wanted to compete because we weren’t ready to go home and end our season.” 

Getting the cleanup duties that day, DiPrima broke open the scoring with a 3-run blast in the top of the 1st to give Hawai’i the lead. The Rainbow Wahine led until the top of the 6th when Alabama’s Whitney Larsen hit a go-ahead 3-run homer of her own to push the Tide in front, 4-3. 

After trading zeros in the bottom of the 6th and top of the 7th, UH had just one more chance to keep good on the commitment to continue the season further with each other as they came to bat in the bottom of the 7th inning. After a promising opening to the frame with a leadoff walk, Hawai’i quickly saw two outs on the board as Dunne recorded her 16th strikeout of the afternoon and brought DiPrima to the plate. 

“My approach to the plate, specifically for that at-bat, was anything close to the plate, I was going to be aggressive,” DiPrima shared. “Facing a pitcher with that much talent, being the number one pitcher in the nation, you might only get one good pitch and you might not get any good pitches … I did have a lot of confidence because of the success earlier in that game but anything close, I was going for it.” 

She locked onto the first pitch, sending a laser down the left field line and just inside the foul pole to stun the 3,000-plus screaming fans in Tuscaloosa with her second home run of the game, her 17th of the season and the biggest one of her career. 

Moments after the victory, Coolen described the moment as the best of his professional life. The group, intertwined with a commitment to hard work and each other, celebrated in the background as they enjoyed a moment that would be etched in Hawai’i history forever. 

Since graduating in 2011, DiPrima has gotten a masters’ degree – coaching at the same time as an assistant on the Lamar (TX) softball staff – and began working as a brand manager working for a beer distributor in California. Her personal life has continued to blossom as well, getting married before welcoming her son two years ago. 

As for finding out about the honors for her 2010 Hawai’i softball team, DiPrima said the team had the news broken in a group text and have since excitedly tried to figure out who could attend the May 5 enshrinement ceremony.  

“We’re all excited to see each other, it’s been so long – you know, now some of us are parents,” DiPrima chuckled. “It’s just amazing how time flies.” 

Speaking of parents, the former Hawai’i slugger and mother of a 2-year-old chuckled and quickly responded that it would just be her and her husband making the trip to the islands when asked about it being a solo or family trip. More than anything, DiPrima said she is just excited to return to the school and see the supporters once again. 

“I want to thank anyone who has ever followed our team, just Hawai’i athletics in general. It makes the experience that much more as an athlete when you have that type of support,” DiPrima said. “[That support] really plays a huge role in that athlete’s life, just being supported and going out there and wanting to just win for the fans, win for the team and just win for the state in general. I just want to say thank you to everyone that has ever supported Hawai’i athletics, it means a ton.”