HAWAII GROWN REPORT
COURTESY DAVID GONZALES / STANFORD ATHLETICS
Cobey Shoji and younger brother, Kawika, are spending more time together now that Kawika plays volleyball at Stanford, where Cobey is the director of operations for the women's team. Kawika returns home for the Cardinal's matches against Hawaii tonight and tomorrow.
Losses help Shoji grow
The lessons have come, not from winning, but from losing.
Losing more than perhaps his previous athletic years combined. And that goes back to T-ball.
But Kawika Shoji is OK with it. Not happy. Certainly not satisfied.
But he is OK with bringing a 3-23 record home for the final two matches of his freshman volleyball season at Stanford. Not only is Shoji (Iolani '06) excited about his scheduled start at left-side hitter for the Cardinal tonight and tomorrow against No. 10 Hawaii, the 6-foot-3 19-year-old is excited about sharing the Stan Sheriff Center experience with his teammates.
"I basically grew up in there," said Shoji, son of Rainbow Wahine volleyball coach Dave Shoji. "I've told my team that it's the best place to play volleyball in the country, how big the crowds are, how excited and knowledgeable the fans are, how they applaud for good plays for both teams. I'm happy to be able to share it with them."
It's likely that the learning curve was steeper outside the classroom than inside for Shoji, a Headmaster's List fixture while a three-sport athlete at Iolani School. The biggest challenge hasn't been adjusting to the academic rigors of Stanford but adjusting to a new position on the court.
Shoji, an all-state selection as a setter/right-side hitter, has been on the left the past few weeks. Although Stanford coach John Kosty liked how his freshman was running the offense, Shoji was also one of the best passers and all-around players. (He leads the Cardinal in assists, aces and digs, is second in solo blocks, third in total blocks).
"Kawika is a talented, talented volleyball player," Kosty said. "I liked his (setting) tempo on offense, but we had an early injury (to an outside hitter) and we had to re-evaluate.
"His ability to play defense, willingness to do anything to help the team and his versatility ... we made the move.
"The thing I like is, even though he's already got very good skills and techniques, he's taken it upon himself to improve himself so he can help improve the team. He wants to be one of the best."
Even though Stanford is finishing out a disappointing season, sharing last place with UC San Diego, the Cardinal has continued to put up a challenge every match. They played two of their best matches last week, 3-1 losses to No. 1 Pepperdine and No. 12 USC.
"I think he's made the transition very smoothly," said Dave Shoji, who visited his son last week. "He's playing out of position, but he's finding ways to score and to help the team.
"He's just a good volleyball player; his volleyball IQ is very high. And he's handling the losses very well."
It hasn't been easy. Not for someone who has never been on a losing team.
ROB ERICSON / STANFORD ATHLETICS
Kawika Shoji doesn't like losing, but the former Iolani standout in basketball, volleyball and golf has learned how to deal with it.
Who won three state titles in basketball, one in volleyball and was named all-state in both sports as well as second-team all-state in golf. Who was a four-time All-American at the volleyball Junior Olympics and played internationally for the U.S. at the youth and junior national levels.
"It's definitely been a learning experience," Shoji said. "But in the long run, it will make me stronger. No, I've never been on a team with a losing season. I've been so privileged and blessed in that regard.
"And moving to the left ... it's what the team needs and I want to do anything to help the team do well.
"But I'm finally playing in the MPSF, something I've dreamed about. I'm getting a lot of swings, get to go up against the best players in the country. It's a challenge but a fun challenge."
Shoji said he was inspired by the story of fellow Raider Derrick Low (Iolani '04), whose Washington State basketball team went from the bottom of the Pac-10 to second place in the league and the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The two talked briefly when the Cougars played at Stanford this season.
"What he and his team has been able to do ... it gives me hope," Shoji said. "It's a great story. It's what we're trying to do."
Although Shoji said he's missed Hawaii, home is as close as his sister's office and apartment. Cobey Shoji (Punahou '97) is the director of volleyball operations for the Stanford women's team.
The two try to have dinner together once a week, getting their poke, sushi, loco moco and plate lunch fixes at Da Hukilau and L&L's in Palo Alto.
"It's been amazing having Kawika here on 'The Farm' with me," Cobey Shoji said. "I've been away from home for 10 years now, so it's really nice to have the comfort of family so close. He is really busy with his college life, but he does make time for his big sis.
"I guess the best thing about him being here is that our family visits all the time. The experience of Kawika and I being at Stanford together has brought the whole family closer. Getting to watch him play every week is really special. I had to follow most of his high school career through the newspapers or through text message/phone call updates from the family, so it's nice to finally see him compete in person and be the one reporting home this time. I haven't missed a match."
"I always give him my honest critiques," Cobey said. "I think I take the losing harder than he does. I'm so proud of how he stays positive and continues to be a leader on this team. I know it's been hard to be losing so much after his successful junior and high school careers, but he has never let it show."
Shoji said he hasn't decided on a major but is leaning toward international relations.
"The school is incredible and the kids are amazing," he said. "It's a joy to go to class and participate in the overall experience of being a student-athlete here.
"And I can never say thank you enough to my sister. She helps me with anything I need, makes sure I get good dinners. A bunch of the guys are now into L&L."
And Shoji will have more buddies to share plate lunches with next season. Joining him at Stanford are his former youth and national team teammates Spencer McLachlin (Punahou '07) and Jordan Inafuku (Kamehameha '07).
"We've been through a lot together, played against and with each other," said Shoji.
"They're really going to help us next season."