UH, Long Beach put new faces on ri­valry

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS - By CINDY LUIS

It’s not your mother’s Big West any­more.

Heck, it’s not even your tutu’s Big West — or Pa­cific Coast Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion as they knew it from 1985-87.

What was once one of the premier ri­val­ries in women’s col­lege vol­ley­ball will have a new face — ac­tu­ally two new faces — when Hawaii (11-6, 5-1) and Long Beach State (5-14, 2-4) meet for the 51st time on Fri­day at the Wal­ter Pyra­mid. For the first time since 1984, it won’t be the Rain­bow Wahine’s Dave Shoji against the 49ers’ Brian Gim­mil­laro as op­pos­ing coaches shak­ing hands at mid­court be­fore the first whis­tle.

Rather it will be two of the most re­spected All-Amer­i­cans in the his­tory of their re­spec­tive pro­grams: Robyn Ah Mow-San­tos, who set Hawaii to its last na­tional runner-up fin­ish in 1996, and Joy McKien­zie-Fuer­bringer, the set­ter for The Beach’s sec­ond NCAA cham­pi­onship in 1993.

“I think it’s just great that two for­mer set­ters, two All-Amer­i­cans, are head­ing up their pro­grams now,” said Shoji, who re­tired in Fe­bru­ary af­ter 42 sea­sons at Manoa. “We need more fe­male coaches and it’s so ap­pro­pri­ate for it to be Robyn and Joy tak­ing over two great pro­grams.

“But it will be strange not to be there.”

Gim­mil­laro, who re­tired in June af­ter 32 sea­sons, will be. He is be­ing hon­ored dur­ing Fri­day’s match and “it will be weird,” he said. “It’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially for the fans who have fol­lowed our pro­grams and the ri­valry.

“Both teams have had so many great play­ers, there’s the his­tory, the vol­ley­ball tra­di­tion. That’s what you want as a coach, you want to play against the best, com­pete against the best. It’s what we had with Hawaii. It’s a lux­ury you don’t get ev­ery night.”

Con­sider that between 1987 and 2003 the pro­grams had a com­bined 10 AVCA play­ers of the year: Hawaii’s Teee Wil­liams (1987, co-POY in ‘89), An­gel­ica Ljungqvist (1996) Kim Wil­loughby (2003), and Long Beach State’s Tara Cross (1988, co POY in ‘89), An­toinette White (1991), Danielle Scott (1993), Misty May (1997-98).

It was hardly a ri­valry in the be­gin­ning. The Wahine were 18-0-1 against the 49ers, in­clud­ing 11-0 against Gim­mil­laro who took over in 1985.

It wasn’t a ri­valry un­til it mat­tered. That came in the third meet­ing in 1989 when Long Beach State ru­ined Hawaii’s Christ­mas, elim­i­nat­ing the top-ranked Wahine in the NCAA re­gional fi­nal played at Pa­cific in five sets.

In­stead of play­ing the fol­low­ing week at Blais­dell Arena — the first time Hawaii hosted the fi­nal four — the Wahine watched as the 49ers de­feated Texas-San An­to­nio in four and then sweep Ne­braska 15-12, 15-0, 15-6 with the Huskers hit­ting .000.

“That was def­i­nitely hard to watch when we got home,” Shoji said. “That ‘89 loss to them was def­i­nitely one of the worst for the pro­gram. We were play­ing to come home where Blais­dell would be packed.”

In­stead what was the 49ers’ first vic­tory over the Wahine turned into a pat­tern, one where Long Beach State won 13 of the next 16 meet­ings with Hawaii. One where the 49ers ended the Wahine’s sea­son in the NCAA tour­na­ment four of the next five years between 1990 and ‘94, an­other three times in the re­gional fi­nal and once in the re­gional semi­fi­nal.

“It was part of the un­fair­ness by the NCAA (se­lec­tion) com­mit­tee,” Gim­mil­laro said. “Sev­eral times, our re­gional was more dif­fi­cult than the fi­nal four. Five times we played each other to go to the fi­nal four when, if we had had sep­a­rate routes, we might have been play­ing for the (NCAA) ti­tle.

“Then in the later years, with what hap­pened na­tion­ally, with the (Rat­ings Per­cent­age In­dex), it wasn’t to get to the fi­nal four. It was just to get into the (NCAA) tour­na­ment. I think that made our matches even more im­por­tant be­cause of what was at stake (the au­to­matic NCAA berth by win­ning the con­fer­ence).”

The ri­valry took some­what of a hia­tus when Hawaii left the Big West for the Western Ath­letic Con­fer­ence (1996-2011).

They only faced each other five times over those 12 years with the Wahine win­ning both of the NCAA tour­na­ment matches (re­gional semi­fi­nal in 2000, sec­ond round in 2006).

“It’s al­ways been a heated ri­valry,” Shoji said. “The fans looked for­ward to the matches. For us, it was al­most like Hawaii-BYU in foot­ball. Our fans didn’t like (the 49ers) and I don’t think our play­ers liked them.

“I’ve al­ways en­joyed coach­ing against Brian. We’re both so com­pet­i­tive. It was al­ways a tac­ti­cal kind of match. He’s one of those guys who coaches so hard, was al­ways on the ref. He was con­stantly in mo­tion, and I would find my­self watch­ing him. We al­ways had mu­tual re­spect for each other.”

And both are en­joy­ing retirement, which has in­cluded some tele­vi­sion work. Gim­mil­laro is work­ing on a vol­ley­ball in­struc­tional video and Shoji has been able to travel more to watch his sons Kawika and Erik play for the U.S. na­tional team.

On Sun­day, Shoji will be in­ducted into the UH Sports Cir­cle of Honor dur­ing the Green & White Cel­e­bra­tion at the Sher­iff Cen­ter.

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