Change is his shaving grace
Your first graphic reminder that this is a season of change for the University of Hawai'i women's volleyball team comes in a double-take glimpse of its head coach, Dave Shoji.
The trademark clean-shaven look of 31 seasons has been replaced — for the moment, at least — by the cultivation of a salt-and-pepper mustache and goatee heading into next week's opening of training camp.
But while Shoji maintains that may just "be a summer thing," other changes that have been afoot, from the coaching staff to philosophy, hold the promise of more permanence and import as the Rainbow Wahine seek to end back-to-back regional semifinal departures from the NCAA Tournament.
After three NCAA final fours in four years, the Rainbow Wahine have been dispatched in the regional semis each of the last two years. A fate that Shoji acknowledges would be "a disappointment" if it happened again this season with this caliber team.
Despite the loss of three seniors, it is a team long on experience — including three-time All-America setter Kanoe Kamana'o and four other returning All-Western Athletic Conference performers from a unit that finished 27-7 (16-0 WAC).
So, when Charlie Wade, an assistant coach for 11 years, left in the spring to become the head coach at the University of the Pacific, Shoji used it as an opportunity to do more than fill a vacancy. Far from being business as usual, it was an opening to reflect and tinker.
In hiring Mike Sealy, from the UCLA men's team, and upgrading Kari Ambrozich, an existing assistant, Shoji said he is also shifting some responsibilities, charting new emphasis and willing to explore options.
"I know (Duke basketball coach) Mike Krzyzewski likes to change his staff (responsibilities), so I think change is good for us, too," Shoji said. "I wouldn't say that we were in a rut, but we were doing things the same way every year with Charlie being here. Now, with Mike here, it is refreshing to get his side of things and, maybe, tweak things here and there."
So far, Sealy's arrival has presented an opportunity to borrow from the men's game, such as scrimmaging more. "I haven't been one to scrimmage much," Shoji admits. "But they do more of that (in the men's game) and I'm willing to listen. I think this group (of players) is one you can do that with. We may be more tactical than technical with them (the players)."
Shoji, who turns 60 in December, NCAA Tournament time, says, "older people are creatures of habit. You get into something and you do it the same way every day. My wife (Mary) says, 'I'm old and have habits' that she threatens to tell everybody about at my funeral some day."
If returning to the NCAA final four becomes one of those habits, Shoji will likely have few complaints.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.