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Hall of Fame coaches are out, but rivalry has chance for new era

June 14, 2017 - 12:05am

In the space of less than four months the retirements of Hall of Fame women’s volleyball coaches Dave Shoji and Brian Gimmillaro have threatened to take a lot of the air out of the long-running University of Hawaii-Long Beach State rivalry.

Or have they?

Maybe, just maybe — and let’s keep fingers crossed — we’re about to see the turning of the page on the rivalry that Shoji and Gimmillaro carried on for the better part of 32 years. Perhaps it is poised to get a generational update.

We already know, for example, that former Rainbow Wahine All-American and Olympian Robyn Ah Mow-Santos is succeeding Shoji, thus putting the ball squarely in the 49ers’ court, so to speak.

The 49ers are in the process of hiring a successor for Gimmillaro, who announced his surprise retirement last week. One of the possibilities, indeed the sentimental favorite in several sectors, is the 49ers’ three-time Olympic gold medal winner Misty May-Treanor.

May-Treanor, who is currently the head coach at Long Beach City College, and Ah Mow-Santos have crossed paths in college, in the Olympics and elsewhere, and have long been emblematic of the programs they came from.

So, to have them on opposite benches come Oct. 13 (The Pyramid) and Nov. 4 (Stan Sheriff Center), when the Rainbow Wahine and 49ers are next scheduled to meet on the Teraflex, would be a promising next step for one of college volleyball’s best, more enduring rivalries.

“The best volleyball matches in the history of the sport have been between us and Hawaii — we bring out the best in each other,” Gimmillaro told the Long Beach Press-Telegram last year with only slight exaggeration.

To be sure, Shoji and Gimmillaro built the rivalry through force of personality and winning ways. At first it was the UH program that Shoji built that had dominated. Then, Gimmillaro arrived in Long Beach in 1985. “That’s when they really got good,” Shoji remembered. They battled for recruits, for postseason bids and championships.

Between them, Shoji and Gimmillaro won more than 2,000 matches and seven national championships.

Small wonder their teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in all-time Big West winning percentage at 85.9 (UH) and 78.8 (Long Beach State). When the University of Pacific’s program went down and, eventually out of the Big West, it was the Rainbow Wahine and 49ers who kept things competitive and interesting.

Four times in the past five seasons UH and Long Beach State have finished 1-2 in the conference standings. Shoji, with a 31-18-1 record, managed to keep the upper hand.

They were two of the last of the schools from the non-Power Five conferences to win or get to national championship finals. That’s something, given the considerable gulf between the well-heeled schools and the rest, that their successors — or anybody outside the Power Five — will be hard pressed to accomplish.

“They were two lions of the sport,” said Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell. “They both left their marks on the sport and on the conference. And I can’t think of a time in any sport (in the Big West) when we’ve had two Hall of Fame coaches like this go out at one time.”

But if May-Treanor joins Ah Mow-Santos in coaching, they might be the two most-decorated rookie head coaches to enter the conference, too.

“It is the dawning of a new day, that’s for sure,” Farrell said.

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