Dave Shoji’s Hawai’i: “It’s a very special program to be a part of”

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Hawai'i coach Dave Shoji/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Dave Shoji has done it all in volleyball.

The Hawai’i coach has the second most wins of any Division I volleyball coach, with a record of 1,193-203-1, trailing only Russ Rose of Penn State. He was won the national championship four times, an AIAW crown in 1979 and NCAA titles in 1982, 1983, and 1987.

Shoji, now in his 42nd year, is driven by two things.

“First, it’s fun to be around young women, trying to shape their volleyball careers and their lives in general, that’s always been exciting to me. It’s really the reason I’m still coaching,” Shoji says.

“Second, volleyball is a really big thing in the community, and I feel that I can contribute to the success of the program, which in turn makes a lot of people happy.”

They’re happy that Shoji’s Rainbows, or Bows as they are affectionately known, are currently 14-5 overall, 7-1 in the Big West Conference. They are ranked 13th in the most recent AVCA Division I coaches poll and stand No. 5 in the VolleyballMag.com Mid-Major Poll.

“It’s a pretty veteran team,” Shoji says. “We made the final eight last year. We have four starters off that team. On the other hand, we have a freshman setter (Norene Iosia) running the offense, so that’s a little different. She’s a pretty good player, so she fits in well. We’ve been injured early, we’re starting to get healthy, we’ve got almost everybody back, we’re still missing one person. We’re getting better, we had a slow start because of injuries, but we’re better now.”

Nikki Taylor reaches high on the right side/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Nikki Taylor reaches high on the right side/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Nikki Taylor, UH’s star opposite, the reigning Big West conference player of the year and a second-team AVCA All-American, is fiercely loyal to Shoji.

“I’ve known Dave since I was younger because my older brother Josh played at Punahou with his son,” Taylor said. “I’ve known him for a while, not super-personally, but I knew who he was, and I saw him around, and we talked a little bit, and then as I started getting older and starting to play, he started to get more involved with me, and I came here to UH, and our relationship has been pretty great.

“It’s probably the best relationship I’ve ever had with a coach before. He’s very involved in my life, in my volleyball, in my career, in  my personal life. It’s really awesome to have someone that’s a coach that I know that I can go to if I ever need anything.”

“He’s very direct. From the sense that you kind of have to have a thick skin. If you have something that he sees that he doesn’t like, he’s not going to sugarcoat it. He tells you the way what he feels, the way it is, but he is extremely intelligent and intellectual about the sport of volleyball, and he will coach you, no matter what it is, no matter where you are, you just kind of have to have a thick skin.”

Lindsey Berg, three time Olympian and Hawai'i assistant coach/Ed Cha, VBshots.com
Lindsey Berg, three time Olympian and Hawai’i assistant coach/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

UH assistant coach and three-time Olympian Lindsey Berg’s experience is quite similar to Taylor’s.

“Dave has known me since I was born. I grew up with him, was coached by him, he was my dad’s best friend,” said Berg, who was a star at Minnesota. “It’s definitely a different experience being an adult and almost being a peer with him, as one of his coaches, compared to growing up with him. It’s been a great experience. I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s done for the program, and what he’s done for the game of volleyball in Hawaii. It’s a very special program to be a part of.

“Dave’s style takes a little getting used to, he’s hard on the girls, you know? He really believes in them, and expects the most of them. So he’s hard. He barks at them, and he’s blunt, and he’s on them, but it’s coming from a good place. It’s only that he knows their potential and that they can be better.”

A 28-year-old Dave Shoji first took the helm in 1975, the second year of the fledgling squad, and turned Hawai’i into a national powerhouse. In doing so, he created a program that crushed all previous attendance records, leading the nation in attendance from 1997-2012 by repeatedly selling out the Stan Sheriff center, cumulatively averaging more than 6,800 per match. In 2013, a renovation of Nebraska’s Devaney Center allowed Cornhusker fans to wrest the attendance title from Hawaii.

Perhaps Shoji’s most lasting legacy is through his sons, Kawika and Erik, who were national champions together at Stanford in 2010 and played on the USA men’s team in the Rio Olympics, Kawika as a backup setter and Erik as the starting libero.

Shoji’s eyes light up when he talks about watching his sons play in the Olympics.

“It was very rewarding, as they had worked really hard for this. They’ve had the Olympics in mind for a long time, and once they made the team it was quite an honor to be involved with the Olympic team.

“They’ve been around the game a long time. They used to follow me to practice, even before they started school at 3 and 4 years old. They were touching balls at a very early age. I think they could pepper at age 5.

“It was pretty amazing, they were very coordinated as kids. They played a lot of sports as kids, but obviously took their volleyball very seriously.”

Dave Shoji is in his 42nd year as Hawai'i's head coach/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Dave Shoji is in his 42nd year as Hawai’i’s head coach/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

If Shoji ruled all of volleyball

With the wealth of experience and knowledge that Shoji has, we asked him a hypothetical question: If you were the Czar of volleyball for a day, what three changes would you make?

“In the women’s game, I would limit the subs. I think six is too few, and 12 or 15 are too many.  I would choose eight or 10. What it’s doing is hindering the development of a lot of players. There’s too much specialization in the game. A lot of outside hitters come out of the game for back row subs, and consequently it hurts their development as six-rotation players which hurts us on the national team and internationally.”

“In the men’s game, I would move the three-meter line back to four meters. I think the back row attack may as well be a front-court attack now. Back-row attacks are so prevalent and it’s so hard to stop when you have four or five attackers on every play.”

“For my third wish, I would make some kind of rule that would force men’s teams to move away from the jump serve a little bit and just play volleyball. Maybe the server needs to land behind the service line. There are so many errors and aces, and not enough rallies.”

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