Big West Showcases Trio Of Coaching Legends
A glance through the NCAA women’s volleyball record book reveals three names shining near the top - Long Beach State head coach Brian Gimmillaro, UC Santa Barbara head coach Kathy Gregory and Hawai’i head coach Dave Shoji.
The Rainbow Wahine skipper has a total of 1,088 wins in his career, ranking second all-time and tops amongst active coaches. Gregory sits third among active coaches with 874 victories, while Gimmillaro owns the eighth slot with 734. Three coaches listed in the top 10 gives the Big West Conference some bragging rights, as it is the only conference with such a distinction. You will also discover the esteemed trio listed in the top 20 in all-time victories and winning percentage, while amassing a multitude of other milestones.
One could get winded listing all the superlatives the coaching trio has compiled through the years, which includes 21 Big West Conference titles, 83 NCAA appearances, six NCAA championships, 10 AVCA Player of the Year awards, 71 All-Americans, 18 regional coach of the year honors and nine national coach of the year selections.
Assisting in their achievements is the fact that the aforementioned coaches have maintained a longevity at their respective institution that is rarely seen in college athletics today. Gregory and Shoji are coaching in their 38th season, while Gimmilllaro took over the reins at LBSU 28 years ago. The ability to maintain a national presence by racking up a significant number of wins year after year is only part of what has made them successful coaches. Their expertise, dedication and love of the sport is on display every day through practices and matches. What is special about the trio is that all three coaches have reached the same destination, whether it’s conference titles, national recognition or postseason success, but they have done so in their unique way.
“You couldn’t find three people more different to compare than the three names listed,” commented Stanford Head Coach John Dunning, who previously coached at Big West member Pacific. “Coaching against them is difficult; they have the same skill set, but the difference is in the way they coach their teams.”
Dunning has a long history with all three individuals, having coached the Pacific Tigers from 1985-2000. During his stint with the Tigers’ women’s volleyball team, Dunning compiled an impressive 437-102 (.811) record, led the Tigers to two NCAA Championships, an NCAA runner-up finish and five Big West Conference titles. Some of the Big West Conference’s most epic battles have been Dunning’s Pacific teams facing off against Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and Hawai’i.
“Competing against them is fun because you have to bring your ‘A’ game every time you play, which I like,” stated Dunning.
According to Dunning, Gimmillaro produces some of the most disciplined teams he has ever faced. The remarkable skill techniques instilled in the 49ers make them hard to play against and that revolves around Gimmillaro’s coaching.
Under the guidance of Gimmillaro, who graduated from Long Beach State in 1970, the 49ers have had unprecedented success. In 27 years he has registered a 733-184 (.799) mark, captured three NCAA championships, made eight Final Four appearances and claimed at least a share of 12 Big West titles. Long Beach State is one of four schools that has made 25 consecutive NCAA appearances with Nebraska, Penn State and Stanford completing the quartet. Of those schools, only Penn State (Russ Rose) has made that many tournaments under one coach, as the 49ers have under Brian Gimmillaro.
Captained by three-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May, his 1998 squad became the first Division I women’s volleyball team to produce an undefeated season with a 36-0 record. The seven-time Big West Coach of the Year was inducted into the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Hall of Fame in 2008.
The Gauchos, guided by Gregory, will fight you tooth-and-nail. In his experience, Dunning noted that UC Santa Barbara always showcases a very competitive team and you have to be on your toes because you can guarantee that every Gaucho contest will be tight.
Gregory, also known as “The Queen” after being crowned “Queen of the Beach” for her success as a player in women’s beach volleyball (two world championships and five player of the year honors), is the only head coach UC Santa Barbara women’s volleyball has ever known. She has guided the program to an 893-404 (.689) record and currently ranks seventh all-time in victories and is one of just 10 DI coaches to have collected 800 wins.
During the previous 37 years, UC Santa Barbara has concluded the season ranked among the nation’s top-25 on 27 occasions. The USBVA Hall of Famer has led the Gauchos to 27 NCAA tournament appearances and four Big West titles.
Hawaii’s accomplishments stem from excellent ball control and great defense. Reflecting back, Dunning mentions that Shoji has perfected the ability to make game-time changes. The Rainbow Wahine are known for their execution throughout a contest by changing up the rhythm of the match when needed. His teams never seem fazed by the alterations, which makes it that much harder for the opponent.
Shoji currently owns a 1,086-183-1 (.856) mark, ranking him first in victories and second in winning percentage among all active DI coaches. He is just one of three coaches to eclipse the 1,000-win coaching milestone. Twenty more victories earns him the title of winningest DI coach of all-time, surpassing UCLA great Andy Banachowski (1966-68, 70-09) who tallied 1,106 wins in 40 years.
The expertise of Shoji has allowed the Rainbow Wahine to capture 21 conference championships (16 WAC, 5 Big West) and four national championships (1 AIWA, 3 NCAA). He was the first coach to win back-to-back national championships with his 1982 and 1983 squads. During their stint in the Western Athletic Conference (1996-2011), the Rainbow Wahine were nearly untouchable, posting a remarkable 232-4 conference record. In 2010, Shoji was inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame.
No matter the path taken, it is safe to say all three coaches have left a lasting impression on women’s volleyball and have made their name, along with their institution, synonymous with collegiate women’s volleyball.