HONOLULU — Now that the University of Hawaii women’s volleyball season has come to a surprisingly abrupt end, the question of whether head coach Dave Shoji will return for a 40th season is again at the forefront.
Shoji reportedly has two years remaining on a five-year contract, so technically it’s not a matter of negotiating a new deal — the decision is totally up to him and dependent upon how much he wants to continue leading the greatest athletic program in school history.
But that does not mean UH athletic director Ben Jay, the volleyball and athletic department’s boosters, sponsors and fans, and the upper campus administration and Board of Regents should just sit back and wait for Shoji’s decision.
On the contrary, now is the time for everyone to show their appreciation for all Shoji has done for UH and the state of Hawaii, and to try to do everything in their power to convince him to stay.
They say you often don’t truly appreciate something or someone until they’re gone, and it would be especially true in this case. For as long as most of us can remember, Shoji has been at the helm and amazingly been putting out a high-quality, nationally ranked product that leads the country in attendance and provides inspiration statewide year after year.
This year, Shoji received yet another validation of greatness by becoming the winningest coach in NCAA Division I women’s volleyball history.
The Rainbow Wahine represent everything a school and its alumni and fans can want from an athletic program: A team that wins conference championships every year (19 years in a row), is nationally ranked (usually in the top 10 or 15) and competes in the NCAA Tournament every year (since 1994), leads the nation in attendance every year (since 1994), and has quality student-athletes who graduate and represent the school and state with class and respect.
Shoji’s program is the model of success not only within UH’s athletic department, but among volleyball programs across the nation.
“First and foremost, congrats to Hawaii on the season, I think the world of Dave and (associate head coach) Scott (Wong) and the rest of the crew,” said Brigham Young coach Shawn Olmstead, after his Cougars swept the Rainbow Wahine on Saturday before a crowd of 8,495 at the Stan Sheriff Center. “It’s always the highlight of your career as a player to play here and … I’m excited that our girls got to experience it with an outstanding crowd, they did an unbelievable job. The noise they created in that third set was awesome.”
Idaho State coach Chad Teichert expressed similar sentiments after a four-set loss to UH on Friday, before 8,238 at the SSC.
“It’s fun to play a team as good as Hawaii and ranked as high as they are,” Teichert said. “Such a fabulous tradition and an unbelievable fan base, so it’s a great opportunity for the girls of Idaho State and I to be able to play in this venue.”
His players were in awe.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Lori Mendenhall. “I mean, we’re not gonna play in front of 8,000 fans ever again so it was kind of fun and they’re the best fans I’ve ever played against, they support the other team and that’s pretty cool.”
Added Tressa Lyman: “I just thought it was awesome. We’ve never got to play in an atmosphere like that.”
That atmosphere doesn’t just happen — it was something Shoji built from the ground up, back when he started in 1975 as a head coach/graduate student receiving only part-time pay and refereeing intramural basketball games after practice to make extra money.
He did it by pulling out and pushing in the Klum Gym bleachers every day and sweeping the floor himself, later coaching the men’s team as well and teaching PE classes and not gaining full-time status until after winning three national championships.
Shoji’s teams do not just win — they do it with an ideal blend of local and mainland talent and with an exciting brand of hustle and defensive wizardry and scrappy offensive firepower from usually undersized hitters.
And his tough coaching standards extend to the classroom, where he expects his players to give the same kind of effort as he demands on the court.
This year’s seven seniors — Emily Hartong, Mita Uiato, Ali Longo, Courtney Lelepali, Ashley Kastl, Kaela Goodman and Kristiana Tuaniga — are examples of the kind of players Shoji recruits year after year.
“It’s tough to end like this but they’ve gotta be proud of what they brought to UH and to our program,” Shoji said. “I’m gonna miss them a lot because they’ve just been so positive. They worked hard. They come to the gym every day and there is no attitude. We had a few seniors who didn’t play much and still we had no attitude. We’re gonna miss them a lot.”
Shoji spoke as if he was not going anywhere … but is said to be weighing his options. Sons Kawika and Erik are playing professionally in Europe, and Shoji no doubt wants to follow them closely.
But more than ever, especially with every other sport struggling financially, UH needs Shoji here and the stability he brings.
And now is the time to remind him of that … how much we appreciate it.