UH Celebrates Legendary Rainbow Wāhine Volleyball Coach Dave Shoji’s Retirement

Hawai‘i’s volleyball fans celebrated like it was 1975 at Dave Shoji’s Aloha Ball Retirement Celebration.
Dave Shoji
Photos: Andrew Lee


Celebrations and volleyball are a little different in Hawai‘i.


OK, a lot different.


So imagine a volleyball celebration for retiring Rainbow Wāhine Coach Dave Shoji—“Da Man, Da Myth, Da Legend,” as a series of illustrated signs succinctly put it.


It was a frenzy of infinite devotion Sunday night (May 21) at the Stan Sheriff Center, the house Hawai‘i and Shoji basically built on the back of his astonishing volleyball program.


The evening was called Dave Shoji’s Aloha Ball Retirement Celebration. The only reason the notoriously tough-to-pin-down-for-a-celebration-of-himself coach allowed it to happen is that it raised money for the Dave and Mary Shoji Scholarship Endowment Fund.


Dave Shoji group photo


Hawai‘i volleyball fans had a lot to celebrate: Since 1975, Shoji built a mythical 42-season career with 1,202 victories (a record beaten by only one other college volleyball coach) and four national titles. The first title came in 1979, a decade after he was the All-American setter and “player-coach” of UC Santa Barbara’s national championship team.


Shoji did it with style; he’ll be remembered most for his uncanny ability as a game coach and his unique ability to draw a volleyball crowd.


“You’ve changed the sport,” former Pacific and Stanford coach John Dunning said in one of many videos played during the event.


It’s not an exaggeration to say Shoji changed Hawai‘i. Former UH broadcaster John Fink recalled meeting Wahine Joslyn Robins at a fast-food restaurant years ago. Seconds later, eight kids asked her for autographs, he said.


Shoji created the first revenue-producing program and the first local volleyball rock stars in an athletic scene more known for friends-and-family crowds. He did it with players from Europe, Canada and the Mainland, and especially from Hawai‘i, where volleyball is in our blood and local kids can compete with anybody.


Dave Shoji swag


That includes Shoji’s sons Kawika and Erik, who played in the most recent Olympic Games. Those two, as well as daughter Cobey and wife Mary, played a massive part in Shoji’s huge success, first by keeping him in Hawai‘i when others offered much more money for him to leave, and later, as constant and constructive critics who also helped keep him mellow enough to remain relevant for new generations.


“It’s like we’re talking about two different coaches,” Elizabeth Ka‘aihue (2007–’10) told Mahina Eleneki Hugo (1984–’87) incredulously as they provided one of the many in-person memories that came from former players that night. About 60 of them showed up, from as far away as the Czech Republic (Martina Cincerova) and nearer spots, too, including Kaua‘i (Leah Karratti). Most talked more about what Shoji gave the Rainbow Wāhine family off the court than on.


Many more players, coaches and media members showed up via prerecorded video. Long Beach coach Brian Gimmillaro, a fierce rival, showed his gracious side by saying simply, “There is no place but Hawai‘i where volleyball is a way of life, and you are the person responsible … We will really miss you.”


Aloha Ball was a celebration filled with warm memories that brought tears of joy to the eyes of many, starting with the singing of the national anthem by former Wahine Ashley Watanabe. “Rubberband Man” Alan Hackbarth came out of retirement to dance. “The Aunties” sat in their corner, signs and lei always at the ready. Toasty little Klum Gym was roasted eloquently by Jim Leahey.


The night ended, essentially, with Henry Kapono—Ka‘aihue’s uncle—singing “Good Time Together” as players and friends stood and went over to hug Shoji.


Henry Kapono
Henry Kapono.


Former All-American Angelica Ljungqvist recorded video of the remarkable moment for a man who never suffered a losing season and officially retired Feb. 20.


That same day, former player—All-American, Olympian and 1993 McKinley High graduate—Robyn Ah Mow-Santos was named the new coach. She told Shoji she was bringing Ljungqvist back from Sweden to be her assistant.


“I was so happy for Robyn and the program,” Shoji said, “and, when she told me she wanted to bring Angelica back, I was ecstatic.”


The former teammates promised to “try to carry on,” then threw Shoji back in the circa-1995 “Cookie Machine,” where players formed a tunnel and threw their lithe coach down the line.


Dave Shoji and Robyn
Shoji with new coach Robyn Ah Mow-Santos.


The 70-year old, who announced he had prostate cancer in December, says he loved the throwback experience. “I feel great,” he told the crowd.


Then he grinned. “And people tell me I look great.”


Ultimately, he thanked the fans, insisting this only-in-Hawai‘i volleyball celebration was all about them.


“I’ll remember this night forever,” Shoji said. “It was my pleasure. And I’ll be real close by.”