RAINBOW WAHINE VOLLEYBALL
Shoji grooves into his 60s
The ageless coach and UH want one more road trip
Dave Shoji began his seventh decade of life much as he has the past four ... involved with volleyball.
The Hawaii coach entered this week older -- questioning if he was wiser -- but knowing he was happy that the season was still alive. Sixty is supposed to be the new 40, but, in Shoji's case, the sport seems to have been a fountain of youth, keeping him ageless and wrinkle free.
Honolulu Regional, at Stan Sheriff Center
Friday: No. 4 UCLA (31-3) vs. No. 12 Oklahoma (28-5), 4:30 p.m.; No. 6 USC (27-4) at No. 11 Hawaii (28-5), 7 p.m.
Saturday: Friday's winners, 6:30 p.m.
TV: Friday, TBA; Saturday, ESPNU
Radio: Hawaii matches, KKEA, 1420-AM
From "Happy Days" to "Heroes," Shoji -- who turned 60 Monday -- has been so successful in his 32 years that only UCLA's Andy Banachowski -- a potential opponent in Saturday's regional final -- has more victories (1,035 to 925). Shoji also has the 11th-ranked Rainbow Wahine (28-5) in their ninth consecutive regional semifinal, a match with No. 6 USC (27-4) on Friday.
The semifinal against the Women of Troy pits Shoji against another longtime coach, Mick Haley, who led Texas to the 1988 championship over Hawaii and USC
to titles in 2001 and '02.
"Seems like old boys week," Shoji said of having Banachowski and Haley in this regional.
Or more like "That 60s Show" with Shoji (60), Banachowski (61) and Haley (63). The trio comprises three-quarters of the 1988 final-four coaches, where Haley's Longhorns defeated Banachowski's Bruins before upsetting Shoji and the defending champion Rainbow Wahine. It was the first time a team outside of California and Hawaii had won.
This month's issue of Volleyball magazine lists the three coaches among the 30 most recognizable names in volleyball: Banachowski (10), Shoji (12) and Haley (27).
"We don't need to talk about (age)," Shoji said yesterday as the team had its first practice following Saturday's win at Long Beach State. "It's attitude and I think I have a good attitude.
"You have to change with the times. I try to find out what the players like ... it's a long way from the '70s. But things change everywhere."
Shoji, an All-America setter at UC Santa Barbara in the late 1960s, likes how the sport has changed during his 40 years of association, particularly the use of defensive specialists and liberos.
"You want to have the best players out there, front and back," he said. "It's helped the quality of the game. You have to have the tall, big athletes on the front line and you usually don't want to see them playing in the back row."
And where the prototype all-around player of the '70s was 5-foot-7, the millennium prototype is about 6-1, Shoji said.
"All the good teams have at least one of those," he said. "Good ball control, good hitter and blocker."
Shoji considers Tara Hittle in that mold but, unfortunately for Hawaii, the junior left-side hitter has missed the last 28 matches with foot and leg problems. She and the rest of the 2004 recruiting class -- middle Nickie Thomas and right-side hitter Jessica Keefe -- will likely petition for medical-hardship waivers.
Still, without the three, all of whom were starting when they were injured, Hawaii has persevered to return home this week to play. The Wahine have won their last 15 and are riding the emotional high of beating the 49ers for the first time in the Pyramid.
"We were really motivated to play at home this week," said Wahine junior defensive specialist Raeceen Woolford, whose first career kill and eighth career ace on consecutive plays got Hawaii to match point in Game 4 against the 49ers.
Now the focus is on leaving home for Omaha for next week's final four. Saturday's winner earns that trip.
"We didn't play those games just to come home, we played to advance in the tournament," Shoji said. "At this point of the season, you just want to win and keep going."