RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Coach Dave Shoji will direct the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team into a 32nd season starting tomorrow.
Shoji still going
The veteran coach will enjoy his 32nd season opener tomorrow
WHEN does something old become new again?
When it's the first match of a new season.
Tomorrow is Opening Night No. 32 for Dave Shoji, and it still brings a smile to his face when he's asked if he's excited about that first whistle. In this job, the only thing constant is change, and that's the challenge that has enticed him to remain the Hawaii women's volleyball coach for more than three decades.
"If you asked me back then (in 1975) what I'd be doing now, I would have had no idea," said Shoji, who took over the Rainbow Wahine in the program's second year. "I don't think when you're a young coach that you think about being 60 and still doing the same job. I never gave it a thought."
PEPPERDINE AT HAWAII
When: Tomorrow & Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Stan Sheriff Center
Series: Hawaii leads 22-3
During yesterday's practice, Shoji -- who turns 60 in December -- was still thinking about tomorrow's starting lineup against No. 19 Pepperdine.
The minor ankle injury to senior right-side hitter Sarah Mason has him penciling in sophomore Jessica Keefe. He still had today's practice to decide about his middle blockers, where junior Kari Gregory and sophomore Nickie Thomas had solidified their spots, in part due to junior Juliana Sanders missing four practices last week because of migraines.
"Hopefully, we'll be ready by Friday," he said of his seventh-ranked Wahine. "It's hard to put together a team in two weeks. But everyone else has the same issues.
"I think we have the ingredients to be better than last year, but everyone is going to have to step it up."
The sentiments are shared by Pepperdine coach Nina Matthies, entering her 24th season with the Waves (440-263). Pepperdine exceeded last year's expectations by getting to the NCAA regional semifinal -- as did Hawaii -- and now the bar has been raised.
"Certainly, my goals are higher than last year and so are the team's," Matthies said. "You never know with adding players and losing some from one season to the next what the personality of the team is going to be, but I feel
like we're in a pretty good place right now ... after our short two weeks.
"I love the enthusiasm, and my freshmen have brought such spirit into the gym. I'm telling them (the freshmen) what a great place to start their collegiate careers, in front of a wonderful crowd. It's something they'll always remember."
It's a homecoming for two Wave players, senior libero and team captain Kekai Crabbe (Kamehameha) and junior middle Lecca Roberts (Seabury Hall). Both played in the Stan Sheriff Center two years ago when Pepperdine lost twice to Hawaii, including the second match -- Shoji's 850th career win and 1,000th contest as the Wahine coach.
"I'm really excited to be starting my senior season at home, in front of family and friends," said Crabbe, who spent part of the summer with the U.S. national A2 team. "We're looking forward to the challenge of playing someone other than ourselves and playing in front of a big crowd. It's going to be interesting for our freshmen, it being their first college game, because nothing prepares you for how overwhelming it is to play UH at home.
"We know we're going to have to battle hard, play to our strengths and play as a team. We have high expectations for ourselves and, for me, every touch on the ball is a privilege."
The Waves return four starters and a lot of height. A lot of height.
Pepperdine's roster averages 6-foot-1, with seven players listed over 6-2, making it the tallest team in the country, according to RichKern.com.
The biggest question mark is at setter, where 6-1 junior Chevon Crum, a backup last season, is battling with 5-11 true freshman Kiah Fiers.
The Hawaii-Pepperdine rivalry dates back to 1976, when the Wahine defeated the Waves for third place at the AIAW national championship tournament. The Matthies-Hawaii and Matthies-Shoji connections go back even further.
In 1969, the men's collegiate championships were held in conjunction with the USVBA championships. Matthies' high school team was competing at the same time as Shoji and his UC Santa Barbara team. In fact, their two teams were on the same floor in the hotel.
"Dave was a really great setter and fun to watch," Matthies said.
Matthies was recruited by Alan Kang to play for the Wahine in their inaugural season of 1974. She decided to stay closer to home, eventually leading UCLA to consecutive AIAW national titles in 1974 and '75, beating Hawaii both times to win the championship.
"I often wonder what would have happened if I had gone to Hawaii," said Matthies. "I was all set to come and then I chickened out."
"I don't think there's any doubt that she would have been the type of player we would have liked to have," Shoji said. "I remember her as a feisty, tough player, a heavy hitter. She could pass, play defense, an all-around player."
Both teams are looking to end losing streaks tomorrow. The Waves have lost five straight to Hawaii dating back to 1997, while UH has lost two consecutive season openers, both to then-No. 1 Nebraska.
Mason has returned to practice but said she was about 65-70 percent. ... Shoji has decided to redshirt freshman setter Dani Mafua but hasn't come to a decision on freshman middle/outside Amber Kaufman, who said she'd prefer not to redshirt. ... Shoji is three victories from becoming the second Division I women's volleyball coach to win 900.