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
“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.