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It has been a magical nine months for the Shoji family. Dave Shoji would never say never, but even he admits it might be impossible to match.
"Winning the final four would be something to shoot for, though," said Shoji, whose 35th season as the University of Hawaii volleyball coach starts with the Rainbow Wahine’s first official practice Aug. 9.
Shoji’s fifth national championship was about all he missed over the last nine months.
In the time it takes to create a child, he won his 1,000th match, reached the final four, was ushered into the American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and honored as its national coach of the year.
In May, Shoji’s sons Kawika and Erik helped complete Stanford’s stunning turnaround from 3-25 in 2007 to NCAA champions while their dad cried in the stands. Kawika was named national player of the year, graduated and earned an NCAA postgraduate scholarship. He leaves today for a shot at playing on the national team.
Saturday, Shoji’s daughter Cobey was married.
"It’s been an amazing, amazing last year for our family," says Kawika, who will play in the World Championships next month in Italy if he sticks on the Team USA roster. "We are so blessed with the way things fell into place."
In the next five months, if Dave Shoji is to win his first national title since 1987, he must meld six new players with what might be the most Hawaiian core Hawaii has had in many years.
The returning starters — and soul — of the 2010 Rainbow Wahine will be All-Americans Kanani Danielson and Dani Mafua, Liz Ka’aihue and Brittany Hewitt. Only Hewitt is not from here and the self-described "goofy white girl" with a passion for potatoes is so amiable and anchored it’s tough to tell.
Most crucially, the Rainbows have to replace All-Americans Aneli Cubi-Otineru and Amber Kaufman on the outside and in the middle. They also need someone new on the right side. Stephanie Ferrell left the team after the season and transferred to Florida last month.
When his players convene in a few weeks, Shoji would ideally like them all healthy, enthusiastic and noticeably better than the last time he saw them play.
He is very familiar with two of the new names. Freshman middle Kristiana Tuaniga red-shirted last year. Chanteal Satele, daughter of former Rainbows Lee Ann (Pestana) and Alvis Satele, transferred in the spring and emerged as the top candidate to replace Ferrell.
Shoji has also seen more than usual of the true freshmen, and enough to say "a couple of them might have to play" without shuddering. Michelle Waber (6-foot-3 hitter) and Emily Hartong (6-1 middle) might be the best candidates for a few reasons, including their ability to pass and help ease the loss of Cubi-Otineru’s brilliant ballhandling.
Shoji sees Kaela Goodman (6-1 hitter) on the right with Satele and Corinne Cascioppo. All the coaches know enough about Mita Uiato (5-8 setter) — Goodman’s club teammate since eighth grade — to realize she is capable of pushing Mafua.
"We can be really good, but it will be a different type of team," Shoji said. "Amber and Aneli were a big part of our offense and Ferrell played well at the end of the season. We’ve got to find some scoring. Kanani and Brittany will carry more of the load and the other three will have to contribute."
His biggest fear now is the schedule he created. Opening weekend (Aug. 27-29) features perennial postseason teams San Diego, Kansas State and UCLA. That trend continues until the WAC season starts in October.
"When you first draw a schedule up you try to make it competitive," Shoji said. "But when the matches get closer you wish there was somebody on there you know you can beat. There’s not one team in our preseason I’m absolutely sure we can beat."