Shoji’s Top10

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - KING OF THE COURT SHOJI -

The mem­o­ries are dom­i­nated by mile­stones. Coach­ing for 42 sea­sons, 1,407 matches — in­clud­ing that pool-play tie with Long Beach State in 1978 — will do that. Ask and the an­swer is given in coach-speak. There can be no highs with­out lows, no tast­ing vic­tory with­out hav­ing swal­lowed the bit­ter pill of de­feat. Where to be­gin with Shoji. Ob­vi­ously at the be­gin­ning.

‘I have to thank Don­nis’

It started with the late Hawaii women's ath­letic di­rec­tor Don­nis Thomp­son and her vi­sion for Rain­bow Wahine ath­let­ics. She was hired in 1973, the year af­ter Ti­tle IX was en­acted, the amend­ment to the 1965 ed­u­ca­tion act that leg­is­lated equal­ity in all pro­grams that re­ceived fed­eral funds. Shoji said he didn't think about Ti­tle IX be­cause teams were teams, re­gard­less of gen­der, and, if suc­cess was to be had, it re­quired the sup­port that would en­able win­ning. Time has blurred the cir­cum­stances re­gard­ing how Shoji ended up with the job af­ter the pro­gram's first coach, Alan Kang, left fol­low­ing the 1974 sea­son. The only truth that mat­ters is that a 28-year-old took over a team that had fin­ished sec­ond in its first na­tional tour­na­ment ap­pear­ance and didn't leave for 42 sea­sons. “Ev­ery time I think about my life, I have to thank Don­nis,” he said in his book “Wahine Vol­ley­ball: 40 Years Coach­ing Hawaii's Team.” “I don't know where I'd be to­day with­out her push­ing Ti­tle IX and women's vol­ley­ball.

“She was the one who re­ally had the vi­sion. I had no vi­sion at the time, I was try­ing to get by day to day. Who could have imag­ined the pro­gram be­ing where it is to­day, ex­cept maybe her?”

Shoji wins in his coach­ing de­but

Hawaii, with its new coach, opens the 1975 sea­son on the road at UC River­side … on Oct. 29, late by to­day’s stan­dards … ral­ly­ing to top the High­landers, 15-17, 15-6, 15-13, 15-11.

“I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing about it,” Shoji said. “Other than we won.”

Shoji goes 16-2 in his first sea­son, the two losses set­ting up what would be one of the top ri­val­ries in the sport: Hawaii vs. UCLA, Shoji vs. Andy Bana­chowski. The 2-0 Wahine head to Pauley Pav­il­ion for the premier col­le­giate event out­side of the na­tion­als, UCLA’s Na­tional In­vi­ta­tional Vol­ley­ball Tour­na­ment. The NIVT was con­sid­ered a pre­view of the na­tional cham­pi­onship run un­der the aegis of the As­so­ci­a­tion of In­ter­col­le­giate Ath­let­ics for Women (AIAW).

The Bru­ins pre­vail 15-9, 15-5 in the NIVT semi­fi­nals on Nov. 1. Six weeks later, in a re­match of the 1974 na­tional fi­nal, UCLA again swept Hawaii, 15-2, 15-11. Im­pres­sively, the Wahine never fin­ished lower than third in seven AIAW tour­na­ments, with one cham­pi­onship, three sec­ond-place fin­ishes and three thirds.

Re­gional fi­nal loss to Michi­gan State ‘dev­as­tat­ing’

Now about those lows. There were sev­eral De­cem­bers where Hawaii had all but booked its tick­ets to the fi­nal four only to have the sea­son end un­ex­pect­edly. None of the losses was as dev­as­tat­ing, in Shoji’s mind, as the 1995 re­gional fi­nal at the Stan Sher­iff Cen­ter The top-ranked Wahine were 31-0 with 19 sweeps that in­cluded 15-1 set wins over UCLA and Cal State Fuller­ton, and a 15-0 blank­ing of Utah State. Four days af­ter turn­ing 49, Shoji faced neme­sis Chuck Erbe and Michi­gan State. Erbe had been a thorn in Hawaii’s side while at USC, where his Women of Troy ended the Wahine’s ti­tle hopes in the 1977 AIAW cham­pi­onship match, the 1980 AIAW semi­fi­nal and the 1981 NCAA re­gional fi­nal. “We were up 2-0, one away from the fi­nal four, play­ing at home in front of a sold-out crowd,” Shoji re­called. “It was the most dev­as­tat­ing loss I’ve ever had.”

With a new Big Ten for­mat be­ing used, the Spar­tans took ad­van­tage of the 10-minute break be­tween Sets 2 and 3. The Wahine came back out cold en route to los­ing 6-15, 8-15, 1510, 15-7, 15-12, send­ing Michi­gan State to Spring­field, Mass., to be part of vol­ley­ball’s cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tion.

Beat­ing USC made it ‘a sweet win’

(USC coach Chuck) Erbe had been a four-let­ter word to Hawaii decades be­fore that 1995 match. Which made 1982 sweeter be­yond the Wahine win­ning their first NCAA cham­pi­onship.

USC, coached by Erbe, had won the last AIAW cham­pi­onship that had full par­tic­i­pa­tion of the top pro­grams (1980), and the first NCAA one (1981).

“They were about ready to start a dy­nasty,” Shoji said. “This was mem­o­rable for many rea­sons. It was against Chuck, we had a long his­tory with them (USC), they had every­one back (from 1981).

“It was a sweet win.”

But it took USC be­ing out of ro­ta­tion in Set 3, an er­ror that took away three points when fi­nally dis­cov­ered, to make it hap­pen. Hawaii went on to win 14-16, 9-15, 15-13, 15-10, 15-12 at Pa­cific’s Spanos Arena.

The Wahine fin­ished 33-1, set­ting the ta­ble to re­peat in 1983 when Hawaii would go a com­bined 67-3 and hang two ban­ners.

Long Beach State’s rally de­nies UH home trip

Seven years af­ter win­ning its first NCAA cham­pi­onship in Stock­ton, Calif., Hawaii was ready to come home and truly play host to the 1989 NCAA fi­nal four, the first time the na­tional fi­nals would be held in Honolulu. Long Beach State had other ideas, ral­ly­ing past Hawaii 11-15, 15-13, 10-15, 15-8, 15-10. Rally scor­ing was in­tro­duced that sea­son and was only used in Set 5. “What sticks in my mind was the court was not equal, it was not equidis­tant on the base­lines to the serv­ing ar­eas,” Shoji said. “One side was open ended and you could go back far­ther to serve. The other side had seats and you didn’t have as much room to serve. That should have been ad­dressed. “What I re­mem­ber is be­ing ahead in the fifth when we switched sides and Long Beach then had the side with more room. They just started bomb­ing their serves. We were that close to com­ing back home and play­ing.” In­stead, the 49ers cruised to the na­tional ti­tle, sweep­ing Ne­braska 15-12, 15-0, 15-6, hold­ing the Huskers to .000 hit­ting per­cent­age. It would set up Hawaii’s fiercest ri­valry, one that lasts to this day.

Go­ing through Ne­braska to fi­nal 4

Hawaii be­gan lead­ing the coun­try in at­ten­dance in 1994 af­ter the com­ple­tion of what was then called the Spe­cial Events Arena. It wasn’t un­til 2013, when Ne­braska opened the new 7,907seat Bob De­vaney Sports Cen­ter that the Huskers jumped to the top.

The du­el­ing fan bases in Honolulu and Lin­coln were ra­bid about their beloved teams and the Ne­braska faith­ful set a then-NCAA reg­u­lar-sea­son at­ten­dance record of 13,396 for a 2007 mid-sea­son match be­tween No. 1 Ne­braska and No. 12 Hawaii that was moved to the old De­vaney Sports Cen­ter, the first vol­ley­ball sell­out in that venue.

That was a “money game” for Hawaii, which flew in just for the Sun­day match at the NU Col­i­seum. Five years ear­lier, in 2002, the Wahine cashed in when up­set­ting the host Huskers in the NCAA re­gional fi­nal, send­ing Hawaii to New Or­leans for the sec­ond of three fi­nal four ap­pear­ances in four years. “We were ranked higher but seeded lower,” Shoji said of the No. 2-ranked team that was seeded sixth. “We felt like we got slighted by the NCAA … again.

“Ne­braska’s hard to beat at home and we weren’t feel­ing great about go­ing there. But our play­ers came up big in that match (All-Amer­i­cans Kim Wil­loughby and Lily Kahumoku had 25 kills each). What I re­mem­ber is Char­lie Wade (then as­so­ciate head coach) swing­ing me around like a rag doll af­ter we won.”

Hous­ton takes off with ca­reer-high 35 kills vs. USC

The Hawaii-UCLA ri­valry is the Wahine’s long­est run­ning, hav­ing played the Bru­ins at least once ev­ery sea­son since the pro­gram’s in­cep­tion in 1974.

But there is some­thing about USC that had Shoji see­ing car­di­nal red and gold. Some of it dates back to early losses to the Women of Troy then coached by Chuck Erbe, who also was coach­ing the U.S. na­tional women’s team. Then when Mick Ha­ley took over the pro­gram in 2001, the red took on a tinge of burnt orange. Ha­ley’s Texas team up­set the Wahine in the 1988 na­tional fi­nal, pre­vent­ing Hawaii from win­ning its fourth NCAA cham­pi­onship in seven sea­sons. In 2006, the stacked NCAA Honolulu Re­gional in­cluded No. 4 UCLA, No. 6 USC and No. 11 Hawaii. The Wahine, down 9-0 in Set 1 would even­tu­ally pull it out 28-30, 30-21, 21-30, 30-27, 15-5.

“Beat­ing SC in that re­gional semi­fi­nal was mem­o­rable, just the way it hap­pened,” Shoji said. “Jamie Hous­ton was just a fresh­man and she went off for 35 kills.”

Hawaii and USC would meet an­other five times af­ter that, four in the post­sea­son. The Wahine knocked out the Women of Troy at the NCAA tour­na­ment three times (2008, 2009 and 2016). Few re­al­ized that their last meet­ing — the 41st be­tween the schools — would also be Shoji’s fi­nale against USC. And the penul­ti­mate match of Shoji’s sto­ried ca­reer.

UH beats BYU in marathon match

The match that wouldn’t end. The 1998 West­ern Ath­letic Con­fer­ence tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship against Brigham Young at the MGM Grand Gar­den Arena lasted 3 hours and 38 min­utes, so long that the Aloha Sta­dium crowd ar­riv­ing for the War­riors’ game with Michi­gan saw the end of the epic bat­tle. “That whole match was in­cred­i­ble,” Shoji said of the 15-12, 21-19, 13-15, 16-18, 24-22 vic­tory over the Cougars. “It went back and forth, side­out af­ter side­out. Points were hard to come by. Match points for both teams.

“Nikki Hub­bert was our set­ter and I re­mem­ber her mak­ing this save that saved match point. And we went on to win. When Leah Kar­ratti put down the last ball I think every­one fell to the floor from ex­haus­tion.”

The match was full of odd­i­ties and rar­i­ties, both coaches run­ning out of sub­sti­tu­tions, Hawaii need­ing to sneak a de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist through the front row, the Cougars be­ing called for sev­eral over­laps and be­ing out of ro­ta­tion.

Some have called it “the best vol­ley­ball match ever played.” With the change to rally scor­ing, re­sult­ing in shorter matches, it will for­ever re­main in the NCAA record books as the long­est ever played.

From the first day, fans flocked to see the Wahine play

Build it and they will come. And they did, from the very first night. Oct. 21, 1994, a Big West match against San Jose State. The listed at­ten­dance was a sold-out 10,031 — seat­ing would ex­pand twice more to its cur­rent 10,300 — the 3-1 vic­tory over the Spar­tans the first of 14 sell­outs in

23 sea­sons.

“That was very mem­o­rable,” Shoji said.

“We (the coaches) dressed up in for­mal gear. Ob­vi­ously it was a lot of fun.

“I can’t say enough about our fans.

They’ve been there for us since the be­gin­ning. It grew into some­thing that no one could imag­ine. We led the na­tion in at­ten­dance for so many years.

“It’s still a great place to play vol­ley­ball.”

Credit the vi­sions of Thomp­son and late ath­letic di­rec­tor Stan Sher­iff. Thomp­son knew vol­ley­ball would draw even in the 1970s, mov­ing matches from 2,000-seat Klum Gym to the HIC/Blais­dell (7,500). Sher­iff held firm at a 10,000-seat arena when oth­ers were will­ing to set­tle for 4,000. Decades be­fore the rest of the coun­try caught on, WahineBall cre­ated rip­ples across the Pa­cific with its leg­endary, al­most myth­i­cal, tales of the thou­sands who showed up nightly to watch. It didn’t mat­ter if it was Klum, Blais­dell, “The Stan­ley,” Hilo Civic or War Memo­rial on Maui, they came and con­tinue to do so.

1979 will al­ways be No. 1

So where to end. Ob­vi­ously at the be­gin­ning. The first. “That first na­tional cham­pi­onship was so im­por­tant, af­ter we had come so close,” Shoji said. “Beat­ing Utah State, the school’s first na­tional cham­pi­onship, it put us over the top. “It was a great match. They had dom­i­nated, win­ning the year be­fore. We were down 0-2 and we man­aged to turn it around.” It was the first time in AIAW his­tory that a team pulled it out in five af­ter be­ing down 0-2. With Waynette Mitchell serv­ing aloha ball, Bon­nie Gou­veia tooled the Ag­gie block to seal the Wahine’s 8-15, 7-15, 15-9, 16-14, 15-12 vic­tory. It capped what had be­come an in­tense ri­valry with Utah State, then coached by Mary Jo Pep­pler and Mar­i­lyn McC­reavy. Ear­lier in the sea­son, Hawaii hosted Utah State twice, win­ning both (3-2, 3-1) and then had gone to Lo­gan, Utah, los­ing to the Ag­gies twice, 3-2 and 3-0.

“Those (home) matches with Utah State should have made my (Top 10) list, they are at least top 10-12,” Shoji said of the bat­tles with the Ag­gies. “We were in Klum gym, peo­ple were sit­ting on the floor. It was hot and the matches were heated. They did try to in­tim­i­date you. They were very ar­ro­gant and it worked for them.”

The most mem­o­rable of the meet­ings in Klum may have been the five-set­ter on Nov. 7. The Ag­gies took the first two sets 15-13, 15-6 and the Wahine the next two 15-7, 15-10.

Utah State went out­side prior to the fifth, re­turn­ing af­ter the game clock had buzzed. “They came back late, the ref pe­nal­ized them, I think they lost a time­out and the serve,” Shoji said. “They didn’t like it, walked out of the gym and threat­ened to for­feit. I think they were al­ready in their cars when Don­nis went out and had to con­vince them to come back.

“They got the time­out and serve back. Our crowd was re­ally rau­cous and we won 15-7.”


Dave Shoji says Don­nis Thomp­son “was the one who re­ally had the vi­sion.”


Hawaii roared to a two-set lead against Michi­gan State. Then came a 10-minute break and UH lost its mo­men­tum and then the match.


The Rain­bow Wahine cel­e­brated af­ter scor­ing a stun­ning come­back from two sets down to beat USC.


Jamie Hous­ton, then a fresh­man, went off for 35 kills in an NCAA Honolulu Re­gional vic­tory over USC in 2006.


Dave Shoji and his coaches dressed up in for­mal gear when the Rain­bow Wahine helped open the Spe­cial Events Arena on Oct. 21, 1994.


The Rain­bow Wahine, top, cel­e­brated wildly af­ter se­cur­ing the win­ning point. Later, they posed for a team pic­ture.

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