HONOLULU (AP) - As an unproven, first-year coach trying to get a women's volleyball program at the University of Hawaii off the ground, Dave Shoji focused on winning one match.
Shoji, who was 28 when he took over the Rainbow Wahine, never would have predicted he would be sitting on the cusp of a milestone that only one coach in NCAA history has reached: 1,000 victories.
"I don't think any coach thinks about numbers of wins," he said. "You want to win because you want to win, for your team's sake, not for your own sake. So it's not something that I really wanted. I just wanted to win the next game."
But in his 35 years, Shoji has taken an infant program and reared it into a four-time national champion.
His 999 career victories have put the coach on the verge of joining UCLA coach Andy Banachowski in the 1,000-win club. As the patriarch of a program that has become a Western Athletic Conference steamroller and national powerhouse, Shoji has a chance to break into the record books against WAC foe New Mexico State on Saturday in Honolulu.
Shoji was scheduled to have a chance at 1,000 on Wednesday, but severe weather forced Louisiana Tech (12-10 overall, 2-4) to postpone its trip to Honolulu until next week. That means the Rainbow Wahine (15-2, 6-0) have their first shot for Shoji's landmark victory against New Mexico State (11-6, 6-1).
The delay irked Shoji, who wanted to get the win and subsequent celebration out of the way. Instead, he was forced to deal with the build up to the milestone for a few more days, all the while worrying about the "distraction" of 1,000 as his team faces an Aggies team that has beaten Hawaii in two of the last three regular seasons.
"He looks like he tries to keep himself calm. 'Oh, you know. It's not a biggie. You guys are the ones that do everything,"' said outside hitter Kanani Danielson, doing her best Shoji impersonation. "But I'm pretty sure inside he's like, 'Wow. This is awesome, being only the second coach in Division I to accomplish this.'
"I think maybe when he goes home and he talks to his wife or kids he gets super-excited. But for us, it's 'What's the next game plan. It's business,"' she said.
And that is why the coach has already won 999 games. While he deflected the praise for his pile of victories to his assistant coaches and players, it was Shoji who directed the rise of the program.
His career highlights include:
- The Rainbow Wahine have never had a losing season under Shoji. They have won every WAC title since joining the conference.
- They have competed in 27 of the last 28 NCAA tournaments and reached six Final Fours.
- Hawaii has won four national championships (1979, '82, '83 and '87).
- He's developed three of the members of the U.S. Olympic team that won silver in Beijing last year. They are: Robin Ah-Mow Santos, Heather Bown and Kim Willoughby.
- The Rainbow Wahine has also led the nation in attendance for 14 straight years.
Shoji patrols the sidelines as a quiet, stoic figure. So it comes as no surprise that he hopes to deflect the adulation that will be showered on him when that 1,000th win comes.
He's already getting early congratulations, including from one fan who momentarily disrupted an interview with the coach.
"Don't say 1,000 because we don't have it yet," Shoji told the man. "You never know."
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