UH volleyball coach courting history
|Video: See video of Dave Shoji talking about his coaching career|
|||Dave Shoji century victories|
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
Dave Shoji's volleyball knowledge is vast, but he achieved popularity and unparalleled success because he recognized something crucial early on.
It is not about Dave Shoji.
Everything he's accomplished he's shared. It was never his program but the University of Hawai'i's. Never his national titles, but ours.
This humility is the reason the state has embraced and appreciated everything about him.
This week, Shoji is likely to become the second women's collegiate volleyball coach to win 900 matches. UH, which has won 899 matches under Shoji, plays tomorrow through Sunday in the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Classic at Stan Sheriff Center.
As he closes in on the milestone, heads turn in Hawai'i. But Shoji has captured our imaginations for 32 years now, coaching the state's most celebrated team and the country's only revenue-producing women's volleyball program.
Shoji also has done what no other UH coach has: win four national titles.
If that fifth never comes, Shoji who turns 60 in December will still rest in retirement peace. He says now he would like his golf-filled post-coaching days to start sometime soon after he joins Andy Banachowski of UCLA at the magic 1,000-victory mark.
"Dave's certainly striving for that (title)," wife Mary said. "It would bother him for his players and the state not to get it, but not for him personally. It's not about him at this point. It's about other people and the community and the university. It's not about Dave."
Shoji appreciates acclaim, but has never needed it.
Seeking attention is not in his nature. What drives him is his competitive nature.
He is calmer and wiser than when he began in 1975, with a $2,000 contract and two other jobs. He is kinder and gentler than the single guy who, a decade later, didn't quite get why his players didn't want to weigh in every day.
Particularly since his family and faith have grown, Shoji has more patience and compassion. He is much more willing to listen to his players and staff than he was early in his career when he was torn between being their "buddy" and showing them who was boss.
"I think he handles things very differently," said Mary, who met her husband when he was 33. "I think you see this in most people if they mature. Early on he had to make sure that he was in charge. Now he works more to make them understand.
"Or maybe there's just so much respect there that he doesn't need to feel that kind of power. He just responds differently to situations. ... He really tries to see the big picture."
Shoji and Mary Tennefos married in 1986. She came to Hawai'i from Fargo, N.D., in 1980 on a basketball scholarship. Her only exposure to volleyball came in an eighth-grade PE class.
FILLING THE STANDS
Hawai'i had won its first national title a year before she arrived, and she was inundated with the sport. As she got to know Shoji, she became part of his extended volleyball family, which included much of the state.
Shoji believes Hawai'i "fell in love with volleyball" at the quaint and ungodly hot crackerbox called Klum Gym. But it wasn't until the 10,000-plus Stan Sheriff Center opened mid-season in 1994 that the Rainbow Wahine went on a revenue rampage that shows no signs of ending, particularly if they keep winning.
Every year since, UH volleyball has led the country in attendance, averaging almost twice the closest pursuers. Since the 'Bows moved into the Sheriff Center full time in 1995, they have drawn 7,100 fans a match with more than 5,000 season-ticket holders despite the fact that all home matches are televised.
Shoji has established an incomparable standard for stability, popularity and success athletically and financially. His wife insists he posseses no magic formula. "What you see with him is what you get," she said.
His players can be more specific. All remember Shoji a bit differently.
Kori Pulaski, an anchor on UH's back-to-back championship teams in 1982 and '83, recalls him as a "genuinely nice guy" who brought out her potential.
Mahina (Eleneki) Hugo, a starter on the last national championship team in 1987, is one of the many local players Shoji developed into a vital role. She remembers Shoji as "a perfectionist" so prone to detail that he would set up a different defense for every opposing hitter.
PUSHED TO THE LIMIT
For each elite Angelica Ljungquist- or Kim Willoughby-like volleyball player Shoji has recruited, there have been a dozen good athletes he has developed to contribute later in their careers. He is known as much for the training that brings out the best in players other coaches wouldn't touch, as he is for the ball-handling supremacy that has marked his best teams.
Suzanne (Eagye) Cox came here as a gawky middle blocker and was transformed into a versatile All-American by the 1987 championship season. Now a mother of four, she still subscribes to Shoji's formula now that she's coaching juniors in Tennessee.
"Fundamentals, hard work, heart," Cox said. "Find their weaknesses, play to your strengths."
Cox finds it intriguing to watch Shoji instinctively pick opponents apart minute detail by minute detail during matches. She still remembers what it took to be able to play for him.
"Maybe I should say he's been so successful because he understands just how far he can push his players," Cox said. "He joked with me once that he'd leave me in a drill until my lips turned blue about the time I was going to hyperventilate.
"Talk about pushing me to my limit. But, hey, it worked. Coaches are all about pushing their players past what they think their limitations are. That's why some of us became great players."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
While Shoji picked up the sport in college and quickly mastered its nuances, his children were all but born on the court. All were quickly "adopted" by his players, and the kids gravitated to the sport naturally.
From Shoji's first marriage came a daughter, Cobey, who is now Stanford's director of volleyball operations. Next month she will be joined by Kawika, Shoji's first child with Mary, who is about to leave for Stanford on a volleyball scholarship.
Kawika, an all-state athlete in three sports at Iolani School, has been training with the USA Men's Junior National Team. Brother Erik, a Punahou School junior who is proficient in volleyball and tennis, made the USA Volleyball Boys Youth National Team.
They have changed their father's life and priorities, and the way he coaches. His family has become his priority along with his relationship with God, which has grown dramatically in the last decade.
COMPETITIVE AS EVER
The Rainbow Wahine are next on the list of what he calls a "very content" life. That does not mean he has lost any of his competitiveness, and that trait was clearly passed on to his sons, who are his harshest critics.
"He is the most content person I've ever seen in life, but when it comes to coaching he's always looking for ways to get better and have his team get better," Mary said. "There's always some little subtle changes along the way.
"And there have been people like Angelica (Ljungquist) and Robyn (Ah Mow), and Kim (Willoughby) and Lily (Kahumoku) and others along the way who have really helped keep the tradition going."
That has not been easy in a sport that has evolved to cover the country with more than 300 Division I teams, and many more national challengers.
Hawai'i got into volleyball early and established itself. It has been nearly 20 years since it has won a championship, but the expectation is there every year for the coach and thousands of residents who have been drawn to a winner, and Shoji.
Shoji remains remarkably low-key.
He rarely makes an excuse, and the moment there's a loss he starts working on a way to avoid the next.
Many of his closest friends share his passion for the game. Three of the eight winningest volleyball coaches Banachowski, Penn State's Russ Rose and Stanford's John Dunning are counted among his best friends. All would love to overtake him at the top of the list with an .851 winning percentage.
"We're still as competitive," Dunning said. "We're better at what we do than we probably ever have been. But we can be a little dominated by it. We're actually better now because there is more balance. It's less do or die, even though I want to win more than I ever did."
ABOVE ALL, HUMBLE
Shoji remains close with many former players. He thrives on the essence of college sports, which introduces him to new challenges and players and people every year. He takes as much pride in those who have gone on to the Olympics as those who have succeeded at other levels and in other areas.
It is not about him. Never has been. Which is why 900 is so close now, and his family life is so serene.
"I appreciate his humbleness," Mary said. "He really is incredibly humble. He always, always takes responsibility for obstacles or losses, never throws them on anybody else. And I appreciate how he represents himself."
Reach Ann Miller at email@example.com.