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Hawaii’s volleyball coach retires after 42 years, 3 NCAA titles

By Jessica Hunt

In 42 seasons, Dave Shoji’s teams never had a losing record. University of Hawaii, Manoa, Photo

It was difficult for Dave Shoji to pick his most rewarding moment from his 42 years of coaching Hawaii women’s volleyball.

With 1,202 victories, three NCAA Division I championships, one Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women national title and two American Volleyball Coaches Association national Division I coach of the year honors, Shoji has a lot of memorable moments from which to choose.

The Rainbow Wahine’s AIAW national title win in 1979, however, was a special milestone for Shoji, who announced his retirement in February. It was winning that title that Shoji felt legitimized the women’s volleyball program. The team had appeared in the national title game in 1974, 1975 and 1977 before defeating Utah State to claim the championship.

“I think that was the biggest moment in the program,” Shoji said. “It just kind of solidified the fact that we were among the best teams in the country.”

The title was the first championship for Hawaii and was meaningful beyond campus borders.

“It meant a lot to the people back home,” Shoji said. “Even though volleyball at the time was not a national kind of sport, it was extremely popular here, so it meant a lot to people here.”

Shoji would go on to lead Hawaii to NCAA national titles in 1982, 1983 and 1987. He coached three or four additional teams he feels were capable of winning a national title, but they ran into bad luck or a team on a hot streak in the tournament.

While the deep runs in national tournaments are highlights, Shoji remembers the early days of the program. That was a time in his coaching career when women’s athletics was an “afterthought for most athletics departments.”

Finding decent practice times, facilities to practice in and travel arrangements that included players eating three meals on $10 per day were challenges he had to navigate. The current popularity and visibility of the sport contrast sharply with gender equity barriers Shoji faced in the 1970s. Perhaps the most visible outcome of the success of his teams was the participation of local girls in youth volleyball.

“There are hundreds of Hawaiian girls playing the game, I think, because of the University of Hawaii program,” Shoji said. “The sport has grown so much. And it’s like that all over the country now. There’s thousands of young girls playing, and it’s made the sport a lot better. Even locally, there are 10 times as many girls playing as when we started in the late ’70s. They’ve just been exposed to good volleyball, not only with us, but with the teams that we’ve brought in. The young girls here have seen the best competition, the best teams over the years. That really has inspired young Hawaiian girls to play the sport.”

Shoji leaves the coaching ranks as the second-winningest coach in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball history. His contributions to the game and to the state of Hawaii will be a hard legacy for anyone to follow.

That task will fall to former Rainbow Wahine setter and three-time Olympian Robyn Ah Mow-Santos. She is transitioning into her role as the third coach in program history. Shoji will not be involved with the team in any official capacity and plans to give his former player space to shape the program as she sees fit.

Shoji looks forward to his time away from the coaching profession and plans to spend time with his wife, three children and grandchildren during a well-earned retirement.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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