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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shoji got the job done

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Dave Shoji

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About the time Jessica Keefe tumbled to the floor in Ruston, La. in October, clutching a knee and becoming the third starter on the University of Hawai'i women's volleyball team to be lost to a season-ending injury, you knew head coach Dave Shoji had his work cut out for him.

When the Rainbow Wahine left Las Cruces, N.M. a night later with a five-game loss and without their NCAA-record, eight-year conference winning streak, it was clear Shoji would be putting in some long hours and no doubt doing some long unaccustomed hand-wringing.

Two months later, if we didn't already know why Shoji commands every nickel of a $135,000 annual salary, we now do. And we have seen why it looks like a bargain.

In his 32-year stay at Manoa, the 2006 season has to rank as among Shoji's best coaching jobs. Perhaps the best. Which is saying something for somebody who has four national championship banners hanging in the rafters.

That the Rainbow Wahine went as far as they did the elite eight before succumbing to No. 4 UCLA under the circumstances is remarkable. That they finished 29-6 and knocked off fifth-seeded Southern California in the regional semis last week is just short of amazing. Because, for a while, it looked like they might be hard-pressed just to win the Western Athletic Conference for a ninth consecutive time. Think about that most chilling of prospects for a minute.

Such was the season on the brink 2006 had become in mid-October. There were the injuries, a rebuilt coaching staff and a stiff challenge from New Mexico State, the type of things UH has hardly had to cope with in the past decade.

So smooth has the ride been for much of that span that, at times, it almost seemed as if all Shoji had to do was roll the volleyballs out on the Stan Sheriff Center terra-flex and put things on cruise control. We know it wasn't quite that easy and not nearly that automatic, though it sure seemed to be in watching it all from the seats or living room.

But as the injuries mounted and challenges accumulated, we saw that Shoji and his coaching staff were up to the job. That the coaching skills and volleyball acumen that had built the Rainbow Wahine program from the Klum Gym floor on up were not a thing of the past.

Eventually, the Rainbow Wahine found their chemistry and equilibrium. They embraced the mission and the urgency of their situation. After the wake-up call at New Mexico State, they won 16 of their final 17 matches.

While there will be no championship to go with this season, in some ways it still stacks up as a banner year for Shoji.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.