Commentary

Shoji cements success with 1,000th win

Hawaii volleyball coach earns second-most wins in NCAA in his 35th season

Updated: October 21, 2009, 2:20 PM ET
By Dave Reed | Special to ESPN.com

With four national championships, eight trips to the Final Four and 13 consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles, it's nearly impossible to remember all the top moments during Dave Shoji's 35-year tenure as women's volleyball coach at the University of Hawaii.

But when Hawaii defeated New Mexico State in four sets Saturday, Shoji, the Rainbow Wahine and the 9,293 fans at the Stan Sheriff Center shared a moment they will never forget.

[+] EnlargeDave Shoji
Jay Metzger/UH Media Relations Hawaii coach Dave Shoji celebrates with his team after his 1,000th victory Saturday.

That was the night Hawaii's coaching icon earned career victory No. 1,000 and became just the second coach in the history of Division I women's volleyball to reach that milestone, joining UCLA's Andy Banachowski in the elite group.

"There was a lot of hype for me personally and a lot of interest from around the community," Shoji said. "I was hoping it wouldn't distract the team. The girls did a nice job of being focused."

The victory was supposed to have happened on Oct. 14, but poor weather kept Louisiana Tech from traveling to the islands. So the milestone victory turned out to be even more significant because NMSU is the primary threat to Hawaii's dominance in the WAC.

"I kind of wanted it out of the way before we played New Mexico State," Shoji said. "There was a little more on the line at the end. The win was a nice accomplishment, but we've got bigger things ahead of us."

The Bows took an important step toward winning their 14th consecutive WAC title, keeping their No. 3 ranking in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I Top 25 poll and earning one of the top four seeds for the upcoming NCAA tournament.

With so much at stake, it's no wonder Shoji was more concerned about what the victory meant to the team than his own accomplishment.

"The players really make the program," Shoji said. "The players win the matches, not the coaches. We've been fortunate to have great players and great people."

Shoji has coached 24 AVCA All-Americans who have a total of 46 awards. Ten of those players have earned first-team honors at least twice, including 2008 Olympian Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, who grew up in Honolulu but never thought she would fulfill her dream of playing for the Rainbow Wahine.

"Growing up in Hawaii, it was every little girl's dream to play for the Bows," said Ah Mow-Santos, who graduated in 1996. "I used to think to myself, 'There is no way I'm going to be able to play with those girls. … They are just too tall for me.'"

[+] EnlargeJay Metzger
Jay Metzger, UH Media RelationsIn 35 seasons, Shoji has taken the Rainbow Wahine from a small-time team to one of the nation's best.

Not only did Shoji give Ah Mow-Santos the opportunity to play for Hawaii, he also did his best to help her develop as a person and player. Shoji encouraged Ah Mow-Santos to enroll in speech and theater classes as a way to get her to open up, then sent her to the last United States Olympic Festival in Boulder, Colo., in 1995 before her senior season to give her exposure to the sport at an even higher level.

Those extra efforts certainly paid off. Ah Mow-Santos has been a fixture with the U.S. women's national team since 1999 and helped lead the U.S. to a silver medal at the Olympic Games last year in Beijing.

"Dave gave me my opportunity in life," said Ah Mow-Santos, who was in attendance Saturday night. "It was great to be a part of something so special. Setters have it hard and somehow get the brunt of the blame all the time. He made me a stronger person mentally and prepared me well for my career with the national team."

The program's popularity goes far beyond aspiring high school and club players. Shoji's teams are a continuing source of pride for the city of Honolulu, the island of Oahu and the entire state. UH has led the nation in home attendance every season since the NCAA began compiling attendance figures in 1997, averaging more than 7,000 fans per match.

"He's had a tremendous impact on the game and making volleyball a spectator sport," said Banachowski, who has brought the Bruins to Honolulu every season since 1980, including for a loss this past August. "Hawaii has always been a leader in attendance, and that's a tribute to Dave and the hard work he's put into building such a strong program year in and year out.

"It's always fun, aside from the trip to the islands by itself, playing in the Stan Sheriff Center and always before a good crowd. They make a lot of noise and cheer their team quite a bit, but they also recognize good volleyball, and they always treat us well."

Another indication of how important Rainbow Wahine volleyball is to the state of Hawaii occurred after the victory, when Oct. 17, 2009, was proclaimed "Coach Dave Shoji 1,000th Win Day" by Gov. Linda Lingle.

[+] EnlargeHawaii women's volleyball coach Dave Shoji in 1978
Courtesy of Hawaii AthleticsShoji, shown here in 1978, was only 28 when he took over the then-1-year-old program.

Shoji enjoys the same level of respect among his peers in the coaching ranks, particularly those who have been around the game nearly as long.

"As a young coach, I was influenced by his earliest teams that were made up of smaller-sized players who played great defense and played the game so hard during the traditional scoring era," said Penn State's Russ Rose, whose 980-plus victories puts him in position to become the next coach to reach 1,000. "I actually modeled our team in that fashion for a number of years. That's probably my greatest tribute to Dave."

Now that the celebration over victory No. 1,000 is subsiding, Shoji and his team can turn their attention to earning the victory that matters most to the Rainbow Wahine: winning the program's first national title since 1987.

The Bows improved to 17-2 with a victory over Louisiana Tech on Monday and have a two-match lead over New Mexico State in the WAC standings. It's likely the Rainbow Wahine and Aggies could meet for a third time this season on Nov. 25 in the championship match of the WAC tournament in Las Vegas.

"We want to keep winning and get a high seed in the NCAA tournament," Shoji said.

If it gets one of the top seeds in the NCAA tournament, there's a strong possibility Hawaii would advance to a regional final for the 10th time in 17 seasons. And if that happens, Shoji and Banachowski could meet in the tournament for just the fourth time.

"He's certainly got it going right now, and I want to wish him a lot of luck this season," Banachowski said. "It would be fun to start out the season playing against each other and even more fun to end the season playing against each other."

Especially if that match would be played on Dec. 19 in Tampa.

Dave Reed is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.