Shojiâ€™s Watchful Eye On The Wahine
If you check out Google maps, itâ€™s doubtful that youâ€™ll find that the way to San Antonio, Texas, is via Honolulu. But for the University of Hawaii Wahine volleyball team this year, there is no other way.
The UH Stan Sheriff Center hosts the NCAA regionals beginning Dec. 9, and Wahine head coach Dave Shoji is expecting his team to be there as host. Wahine fans, who have felt the pain of early tournament exits (like last season) and the joy of many great tournament rides, also expect the home team to be there.
Could this be the year that the Wahine not only make it to the Final Four, but also all the way to the NCAA title?
Perhaps. Only an earlySeptember four-set loss to UCLA separates the Wahine from perfection this year. With AllAmerican Kanani Danielson playing at the top of her game and getting tremendous help from Emily Hartong, Jane Croson, Chantele Satele, Brittany Hewitt and Mita Uiato, among many others, this is an incredibly talented and deep team.
The Wahine should wrap up another WAC regular season title in their final year in the conference when they play host to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State Nov. 10 and 12 at the Sheriff Center. An impressive victory against always-tough New Mexico State on Senior Night will be a great sendoff for the Wahine as they get ready for the WAC Championships and ultimately the NCAA tournament.
The WACâ€™s motto for the past few seasons is “Play Up!” and thatâ€™s exactly what the Wahine have been doing this season. For much of the year, they have either led the nation or have been among the nationâ€™s leaders in hitting percentage. And with setter Uiato having so many targets to send the ball to, itâ€™s no surprise that Hawaii has been playing up all season long.
But to take it to the next level winning the regional championships at home and then knocking off the best of the best in San Antonio will be the true test of this outstanding team.
For Shoji, it would be another jewel among his crowning achievements. The Wahine havenâ€™t won a national title since 1987, but theyâ€™ve sent five teams to the national championships in the last 15 years: 1996, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2009.
This team, which has shown so much promise, could be the next.
It would be another milestone for Shoji who has had a lifetime of achievements, from four national titles to more than 1,000 wins to a spot in the Hall of Fame as this year will mark the 30th time in his brilliant career that his Wahine will reach the NCAA tournament. Thatâ€™s an incredible accomplishment.
The ageless coach deserves another shot at the national trophy. With a little help from the NCAA travel agent and some continued hitting success, this yearâ€™s team could provide the coach with a wellearned trip to San Antonio.
But first things first: wrapping up the WAC and winning regionals at the Stan Sheriff in December. The Wahine will continue to “Play Up.”