University of Hawaii volleyball coach Shoji nears 1,000th win
• Photo gallery: Dave Shoji
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
For Dave Shoji, 999 plus 1 will equal much more than 1,000.
When the University of Hawaii volleyball coach wins his next match with the Rainbow Wahine, tomorrow against New Mexico State or Monday against Louisiana Tech or — well, let's not go there — the nice round number will pale in comparison to a few others.
Shoji will be only the second in Division I women's volleyball, after close friend Andy Banachowski of UCLA, to reach 1,000 wins.
Cincinnati coach Reed Sunahara, who is from Hilo and played at UCLA, is close with both and claims they "put women's volleyball on the map."
"They are legends and people look up to them and say, 'Hey, I want to be like them,' " Sunahara said. "Like me; I idolize those guys. I give them credit because they are in it for the good of the sport and the kids."
But beyond their 60-something coaches, the UCLA and Hawai'i programs are polar opposites.
Shoji is an enigma in college volleyball. He coaches and — more to the point — recruits to the world's most isolated, populated land mass. He is also the only one in his sport whose program makes money — a little more than $2 million the past five years. Despite having every home match televised live, Hawai'i has led the country in attendance since it moved into the Stan Sheriff Center in 1994.
No other program is close — relatively, figuratively or literally.
Shoji has won from the moment he signed his first $2,000 part-time contract in 1975 — eight years after Banachowski started — through this 35th season, when his team is ranked third in the country and in the midst of another blitz of the Western Athletic Conference. He has won with All-Americans from Alaska and Papakolea, Sweden and Kaimukí.
He has won four national championships and 85 percent of his 1,175 starts, a percentage that is second in his sport only to good friend Russ Rose of Penn State.
"One of the hardest things in terms of longevity is to not have fluctuations,"said Stanford coach John Dunning. "To reach 1,000 victories, you can't have had any fluctuations. How does it not go up and down? How are you there every year? His teams are always there. It's just quality. It's just a sign that he, in all aspects of the program, knows what he's doing."
There are now 330 teams in Division I and Shoji's teams have been ranked among the top 10 in the final polls all but five years. More than half those years it has been ranked No. 5 or higher. He considers that the greatest accomplishment.
"We are competitive with everybody in the country,"Shoji said. "We haven't won in awhile (since 1987), which is disappointing, but I think we've been close and kept our team in the top 10 for the most part all these years. That's an accomplishment for Hawai'i, to be mentioned in the same category as the Stanfords and UCLAs, Penn States and Florida."
NOT TIME TO QUIT YET
It has been a unique and remarkable ride. Shoji, 62, admits he thinks about retiring every time he sees football coaches Joe Paterno, who turns 83 in December, and Bobby Bowden, 80 next month, on TV — "I vow not to be around even close to where they are" — but won't pull that trigger until the job becomes a grind.
"I'll know when it's time,"Shoji said. "It's a tiring job. You really get no break when you're coaching at this level. It wears on all coaches. That part of it will probably be the deciding factor — when it starts wearing on me."
There is no sign yet. Shoji's passion for the game and his program has only grown over the years. As his sport has become more competitive, his competitive nature has warmed to the tougher task. Some seasons are more difficult than others, fraught with personal and personnel problems, but he admits to absolutely no regrets and knows how blessed he is.
"You saw the way he responded when Hawai'i beat USC (at last year's subregional)," said Diane (Sebastian) Pestolesi, Shoji's first "legitimate" All-American recruit from the Mainland. "How many Division I coaches jump up and down repeatedly with their team? I appreciate that. He's honest and straightforward. There's no game-playing."
'AS FIERY AS EVER'
But there have been many, many games. Still, Shoji comes out fresh every season and ready to rumble, fired up for game day and more appreciative every year of the company he is allowed to keep in his current and former players. He remains completely caught up in the challenges of recruiting, training and nurturing players and coaching the game, which he might do better than anybody.
"I remember how brilliant he was in pulling off the subs and timeouts and how everything was orchestrated so well right down to the end in the 1982 final,"recalled Lee Ann (Pestana) Satele. "If I'd recorded that game, you could show it at a coaches' clinic. It was classic game management, how to win in the end."
Every year and every set is different. Shoji has adapted to his players and opponents, the game's changes over the years and momentum swings second to second. He might not always have the six best players on the court, but he nearly always has the six who play best together at that moment.
"I loved playing for him because he taught me to believe in myself and strive for my personal goals," Missy Yomes said. "His favorite comment to me prior to entering the game was 'Make something happen,' whether I was substituted into the game or started. I would like to think I always did make something happen. His confidence in you as a player made the impossible possible. Who, in their right mind, would use a 5-6 player on the front court? Dave did."
Pestolesi's husband, Tom, played for Shoji when he also coached the UH men in the 1980s. Two of their kids will be here in the next year playing Division I volleyball. The Pestolesis say Shoji set the coaching bar so high, those that followed have rarely measured up.
"In my opinion, and Tom shares it," Pestolesi said, "Dave is one of the best in-game coaches I've ever seen. After watching years and years of volleyball I recognized it as a player and naively thought all good coaches must do this. Over the years I've come to realize very few coaches get close to what Dave does on a regular basis, especially when it comes down to game strategy and adjusting strategy."
Still, Shoji is constantly learning, from the game and those around him, asking for ideas and help.
"It's not like we're getting the same players Stanford gets year in and year out," said associate coach and former player Kari Ambrozich. "But he's just so willing to learn, keep an open mind, adapt and really put his ego on the side. It's not a matter of Dave being right; it's a matter of his players getting better."
Adds Banachowski, now at 1,095 wins and counting:"He's as fiery as ever as a coach. His teams continue to compete hard all the time. He always gets the most out of his talent. That's the sign of a great coach. Those are always trademarks of his teams. They enjoy playing for him."
WAHINE A HOT TICKET
Shoji admits he still "gets a real rush" when he looks up and sees 6,000 people in the stands, gratified so many enjoy a game so few follow in most of the country. And, they have been more than willing to pay for it.
Hawai'i's highest ticket price is $17. Most schools are more like Penn State, where you can watch the top-ranked two-time defending national champion for $5.
Ticket revenue in Mänoa has averaged more than $800,000 annually since the Rainbow Wahine moved into Stan Sheriff Center full time in 1995. That is another nice, round number no other program in the country can quite comprehend.
Shoji is the only constant over all those years. He grew up here and has never seriously thought of leaving, even when Kentucky dangled a package worth reportedly $100,000 to him back in 1983, while his team was becoming the first to successfully defend an NCAA women's volleyball championship.
'IT'S NOT ABOUT ME'
He has settled into a serene life that revolves around family, faith, volleyball and his cherished golf game. Wife Mary teaches at Punahou, sons Kawika and Erik play for Stanford and daughter Cobey is director of volleyball operations there. Shoji spends much of his off time — from volleyball and golf — quietly doing community service and working for his church, which "does a lot more for me than I do for it."
He was voted coach of the NCAA's 25th anniversary team, one of USA Volleyball's All-Time Greatest Coaches, is in the Hawai'i Sports Hall of Fame and nurtured the careers of more than 40 All-Americans and five Olympians. He has surrounded himself with gifted players and staff as passionate about the program as he is.
The combination has worked 999 times now. Along with those startlingly large, loud crowds that feel part of the program, it has made Hawai'i volleyball the envy of the sport.
Just don't ask Shoji what winning 1,000 matches means to him.
"It belongs to everybody that's ever been involved in the program," he said. "It's not about me so I don't want to say anything about what it means. So many people shared in all these victories. It's not a Dave Shoji thing."
Well, maybe just a little.