Following a 16-year stint with the Western Athletic Conference, the University of Hawai'i returns to the Big West Conference and so does Head Coach Dave Shoji and his nationally-ranked women's volleyball team. Coach Shoji, who leads all Division I active coaches in victories with 1,045, begins his 38th year at the helm of the Rainbow Wahine. During his 11 years coaching in the Big West (1985-95), he accumulated a 165-31 conference record and captured five league titles and one national championship. We talked with Shoji about his return to the Big West Conference.
Q: The membership of the Big West has changed quite a bit since Hawai'i was in the league, but a few familiar faces still remain, including what seemed to be your two toughest competitors during the 11-year stint in the league. From 1985-95, Hawai'i, Long Beach State or Pacific captured the yearly title. Are you looking forward to reviving the rivalry with the 49ers and facing the Tigers this season?
Yes I am. We had several huge matches at Pacific in the Spanos Center that were epic battles. It will also be fun to go to Long Beach since we played many tough matches against them at the Gold Mine and a few at The Pyramid.
Q: Along with the teams I mentioned, you will also be facing two of the nation's top coaches in Long Beach State's Brian Gimmillaro and UC Santa Barbara's Kathy Gregory. With three of the top coaches in women's volleyball now in the Big West, will it be fun to battle on the court on a regular basis once again?
It will be fun to renew the rivalries with them since there is so much history between us. But I am not looking forward to playing against them. They are both great coaches and the battles will be tough. They are such icons in the sport. I think it will be fun for our players to find out what playing against that type of talent is all about.
Q: Anything else you are looking forward to as the 2012 season approaches?
It will be good to get back to California and visit some cities that are synonymous with good volleyball like San Luis Obispo, Long Beach and Irvine. Fullerton has even gotten better over the years.
Q: Any memories that stand out during your time in the Big West?
One time when hosting Pacific in Klum Gym it was raining and the roof started to leak and of course it seemed to only leak on the side Pacific was playing on. And of course, Tigers coach John Dunning seemed upset with what was going on. It was so bad we had to wipe the floor after every point.
Another match was when we faced Long Beach State in the 1989 NCAA Northwest Regional. If Hawai'i won we were headed back to Honolulu, Hawai'i, to compete in the Final Four on our home court. Unfortunately, the 49ers came from behind to eliminate us from the tournament. It was a very disappointing loss, one we will always remember.
Q: I know we are one week out before the start of the season so you really haven't gotten your feet wet, but can you tell any differences you see in the Big West (past to present)?
I think the Big West is still a very competitive conference that has great ball control teams but some of the teams are more physical now. In the past, the Big West didnt have as many big players but the type of play was similar to the present teams. Competition will be fierce this year.
Q: You won the Big West championship your last season in the conference. What is it going to take to continue where you left off?
It isn't going to be easy. Compared to the WAC (where Hawai'i went 232-4), the Big West is stronger in both the middle and bottom of the conference. There wont be any easy nights for any team.
Q: A third of your roster lists California as its home state. Do you think the proximity of your matches will help with recruiting since you do pull a good amount of players from California?
It definitely will help our recruiting efforts in California. Parents now have the opportunity to watch their child play in half the conference matches, which is huge. I think the distance has hurt us in the past, but the Big West's geographic make-up allows the student-athlete who commits to Hawai'i the ability to play a few matches in front of family and friends.