Hawaii volleyball coach Shoji is national coach of the year
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
TAMPA, Fla. — With those Rainbow Wahine volleyball players who warmly call him "Grandpa" there to watch, Hawai'i's Dave Shoji today was named AVCA Division I National Coach of the Year for the second time in his career.
The announcement was made at the American Volleyball Coaches Association Coaches Honors Luncheon at the Tampa Convention Center. Shoji, in his 35th year at UH, and his team came after practice for their national semifinal.
His players waited out more than an hour's worth of awards before Shoji was honored, listening to their IPods, texting, studying and, in Kanani Danielson's case, taking a short nap.
But when Shoji was announced, the group at the back of the ballroom screamed to life, standing on their chairs.
"Yeah, Grandpa," senior captain Aneli Cubi-Otineru yelled.
Cubi-Otineru has known Shoji since she played against his sons as a junior. Asked why this team has achieved so much with Shoji, she was philosophical.
"We play hard, we play together," Cubi-Otineru said. "I think they see the chemistry we have together. And we have a lot of talent this year."
Shoji's speech started with a prop. He "flew in" the volleyball he was given by the then-CCVA when he was 1982 national coach of the year. Days later, his team won Hawai'i's second national title and added a third the following year and another in 1987.
"If any of you out there think it's all about you, you are wrong," Shoji told the room full of coaches. "I've got 14 athletes that are unbelievable people and it's all about you guys."
Shoji, who turned 63 this month, has coached Rainbow Wahine volleyball more than half his life. He brought the 'Bows to their ninth NCAA final four this season, with a 28-match win streak.
Today, someone finally noticed.
"I think this signifies us being back on the map so to speak," Shoji said of the award. "We've been here, but not since 2003. I think a lot of people probably thought we'd never get back here. It's harder and harder to get back if you're one of the non-BCS-type schools. So when we did get back, that's why we get a lot of credit."
This year's team has been ranked third since mid-October, but was seeded 12th in the NCAA Tournament after winning its 12th consecutive conference title.
"Outside our state," said Shoji's wife, Mary. "I don't think everybody believed in them as much as they believed in themselves."
Shoji became the second in his profession to reach 1,000 victories this season, getting the milestone win Oct. 17, in front of 9,293 fans at Stan Sheriff Center. He is also second in winning percentage (.861), with a record of 1,016-175. This is the 19th year his team has won at least 30 matches.
Maybe just as eye-popping, Hawai'i has the only volleyball program in the country that makes money.
It has led the country in attendance since moving into the Stan Sheriff Center in 1994. This year, the Rainbow Wahine averaged 6,423 fans — 1,500 more than Nebraska, which was second, and hosted a regional in Omaha that pumped up its numbers.
All of Hawai'I's home matches are also shown live on TV.
Shoji is a 10-time conference and region Coach of the Year. He was named one of the "All-Time Great Coaches" by USA Volleyball in 2002. He has also been inducted into the Hawai'i Sports Hall of Fame and was named coach of the NCAA's 25th Anniversary team.
He spoke a little of his coaching philosophy — "work your butt off ... find fundamentally solid players ... and get a system that fits them."
"But most important," Shoji said, "you have got to nurture your players. You want them to be good people. I have 14 players who really feel good about themselves."
And each other, which might be the most crucial element in this team reaching the final four for the first time since 2003.
"They all want the best for one another," Mary Shoji said, "and that comes out in how they play."
The coaches also play a part in that.
"He doesn't only act as a coach," Cubi-Otineru said. "It's not like he just cares about us volleyball-wise. He cares about us personally. ... He wants us to be successful, and not just in volleyball."