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[ WAHINE VOLLEYBALL ]
Shoji ready to wait
The Rainbow Wahine volleyball team opens competition this week against Eastern Washington in the Hawaiian Airlines Classic. Hawaii coach Dave Shoji answered questions from Star-Bulletin reporter Grace Wen about the season, the program and his future at UH. This is the first of two parts. Part two runs tomorrow.
Q: You have lost seniors before, including a group of seven in 1983, how does this rebuilding compare to previous rebuilding campaigns? Or do you not rebuild but reload?
A: I don't know if I would call it reloading. It's just a whole new nucleus. The '84 season would be a good comparison. We had a group that eventually was very good. It took us awhile there.
We had good players like we have good players now. It's going to take awhile for them to be very good. It took them awhile to be very good. It will take some time for this group to be very good as well.
Q: When might you contend for a national title again?
A: Obviously with the players that play this year, it will be a time for us to evaluate to see how far each individual can take us. Some will progress like we want them to and maybe some others may not. We're continually trying to upgrade the players in the program.
We're certainly not going to stay with the people we have necessarily. As the year goes on, people get evaluated. Some will step up, we're hoping.
Q: Who are some of the players that could surprise fans this season? Do you see a future Lily Kahumoku or Kim Willoughby waiting to break out like Kim did her sophomore year?
A: They'll see a different (Susie) Boogaard. She's going to surprise a lot of people. She'll be able to terminate and she needs to terminate for us to be very good. I have a feeling she'll break out this year.
The changes in her will be subtle. She's in better condition. Her vertical has improved, quickness has improved. That is something that gets better the more time you spend in the program. It's kind of related to how hard you work. She'll need to have kills every night for us to be very good.
Q: Anyone else capable of a breakout season?
A: (Juliana) Sanders has a chance to be a good impact player, but I'm hoping she could be a middle this year. Because she's so young and inexperienced, it's going to take some time with her. She certainly has potential to be very good. She needs to block and hit and she can, but she's still ... she'll get fooled on the block. She'll make inexperienced-type decisions, but she'll have to learn a lot while she's out there.
Q: Blocking is a difficult skill. Who are some of your better blockers?
A: Blocking is really hard at this level. You can be in the program a long time and not be a good blocker. It's just a hard skill to learn.
I think Melody (Eckmier) is a good blocker. When she gets set up on a hitter, she's physically strong. Kanoe (Kamana'o) is an outstanding blocker for her size. She's very deceptive to her block. She jumps very well and technically she's very good. She can take line pretty well and she can actually take seam.
Q: Speeding up the offense is a nice idea in theory, but do you have the talent in your personnel to put it into play?
A: We have a setter. The hitters need a little faster tempo. Our hitters are not going to go up and over like Kim and Lily did. They'll have to go around or through the blockers. This will allow them to do that.
I think we do (have the talent to run a fast offense). I think the tempo is going to allow them to do more than they would than if the set is very high and the blockers are always there.
Q: What physical talents are characteristic of this team?
A: It's kind of a strange mix of individual players in that no one is one of those prototype players. No one has the entire package. They all have qualities about them that are good. But there's an area where they're not very proficient, or they're not particularly great. So we're going to have to bring the strengths out of everybody. We're going to have to mix and match strengths and weaknesses and hopefully we eliminate a lot of the weaknesses.
It's going to take a little more creativity to put the people out there in the right spot. We don't have two lefts, two middles, and a right that are solid in every phase.
Q: Hawaii owns an incredible win streak in the Western Athletic Conference. Will that end this season and who could be the culprit?
A: I'm not going to say that we are going to lose, but it's certainly a possibility (with a bit of agitation in his voice). Fresno, SMU (Southern Methodist), (Nevada) Reno are probably the most obvious schools.
That first WAC trip will tell a lot about our team. We go to Fresno, then Reno. That's a tough conference opener, playing the best two teams.
I don't think they're salivating. I think they feel like they have a realistic shot of beating us, but I don't think they're looking forward to playing us.
Q: Is this team of mostly newcomers aware of the history of the streak?
A: They're well aware of it, but I really think they'd like to extend that streak. They intend to.
I don't want to say anything that gives my team the wrong idea. We expect to win and we want to win and they expect to win. For me to say anything or even hinting that the streak will end this year, I'm not going to say it.
Q: If the Wahine don't win the WAC's automatic bid to the tournament, is this team going to merit an NCAA at-large berth?
A: I think that will be determined by the first 10 games. We're going to play probably six or eight teams that will qualify. If we can hold our own with them, I think we'll be in. The first 10 games will decide if we can make it on our own if we don't take the automatic.
Unlike a lot of sports, the preseason is not really a preseason. That first match with Eastern Washington is going to stay with us the whole year. It will go a long way to determine whether we make the playoffs. As will San Diego, and every match after will count big time in whether our RPI is good. So there's no experimenting. It's not like the NFL, where they have five games to get ready. We have to be ready from the get-go.
Q: The three season-opening tournaments provide a range of opponents for Hawaii. Who might be one of the toughest battles?
A: Pepperdine. They lost their best player, but they're one of those programs that have people waiting to play. I don't see a weak team. Irvine will be good. Cal is rated top 10. Arizona is up there.
UCLA might be a top-five team. I don't know much about Southwest Missouri. Every team in our preseason is a good team so we've got our work cut out for us.
Q: What do you think of this year's schedule? Are there any matches you have circled on your calendar?
A: I'm not really looking past the first match. We've got to take care of the first one and go from there.
We've got to go game by game. Hopefully we get enough wins to make the (NCAA) playoffs.
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