Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 7, 2010

Special year for Stanford

Kawika Shoji's national honor just the latest for Cardinal men

by Rick Eymer

Stanford senior setter Kawika Shoji, who was named National Player of the Year Wednesday, was a little more than one month old when his father won an NCAA title as coach of the Hawaii women's volleyball program.

He'd like nothing more than to honor his dad's legacy than to win an NCAA men's volleyball national title.

Dave Shoji, who led the Hawaii women to the Final Four last fall, will be on hand to cheer Kawika and younger son Erik Shoji. Cobey Shoji, the eldest daughter of the family, is Director of Volleyball Operations at Stanford.

The last time Dave Shoji was involved with a volleyball match at Stanford; it was with his Rainbow Wahine team that beat Illinois and Michigan to advance to the Final Four last fall.

"I think it would be very meaningful and special for him," Kawika Shoji said. "He's passed the torch to us in a certain way."

Winning the national award also meant a great deal to Kawika Shoji, who became the second Stanford player so honored, following Canyon Ceman in 1993.

"It's a great, great honor," he said. "I am very proud. I have to thank my coaches and especially my teammates. It's a team game, and individual awards come with team accolades. I'm just excited they pass me the ball, and I deliver the ball to other players. They make plays too. Without our team, this award would not have happened."

The Stanford men's volleyball team features seven Hawaiians on its roster, and three of them — senior setter Kawika Shoji, sophomore libero Erik Shoji and sophomore middle blocker Brad Lawson — were named AVCA's first team All-Americans.

They've brought their passion for the game to Stanford, and coach John Kosty hopes it will payoff Saturday as the top-ranked Cardinal (22-6) convened with three other colleges for the NCAA National Championship at Maples Pavilion.

"It's an honor for the program," Kosty said of the Player of the Year award. "I look at Kawika winning as he's the setter and our team captain and leader, but he also represents our team. It is a team award. There are a lot of people who have helped him achieve what he's achieved."

Stanford was favored to beat fourth-seed Ohio State (22-7) in Thursday night's national semifinal match. Cal State Northridge (23-9) opened against No. 3 Penn State (23-7).

Saturday's championship match is slated for first serve at 4 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.

Stanford, of course, hopes its special year will have a fitting climax for all the players who have been invested for so long.

"Everybody starts off on a small court and fools around," said Lawson, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year. "We all play on the beach, so everybody learns to be an outside hitter and a setter. It leads to a more complete game."

Kosty, who has been part of the Cardinal program for 20 years, said recruiting out of Hawaii is important but may not be a priority.

"We want the best student-athlete," Kosty said. "It just so happens Hawaii has been a hotbed for that the past several years."

Kosty said there has been at least one Hawaiian on the team every year of the program's existence.

"There's always been a piece of Hawaii in the program," he said. "We understand that's their sport. Throughout their high school career, they have the spotlight on them all the time.

"In Hawaii, high school sports are treated like college sports and college sports are treated like professional sports, so there's a lot of focus on them," Kosty continued. "They're interviewed all the time and they're on TV all the time. I think all this prepares them for the college game. With Erik and Kawika, their father was the coach so they spent all their lives breaking down plays, watching matches, and being at matches, so they have a great understanding of the game."

Hawaii native Clay Stanley, who played for the U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Games, is highly recognizable in Hawaii.

"It's part of the culture in Hawaii not only to play in general but to develop defensive skills and ball control," said Kawika Shoji. "We take pride in those things."

The Shoji brothers, along with Lawson and fellow Hawaiians Jordan Inafuku, Spencer McLachlin, Max Halvorson and Chandler Kaaa, have helped create a winning atmosphere at Stanford.

"It's a great opportunity for us at Stanford to be hosting and participating in the national championships," Kosty said. "We're excited to be here. It's been a long season for us. It started way back in late September when we arrived on campus and it's proved to be a very great season for us."

As freshmen, current seniors Kawika and Evan Romero, a second team All-American, suffered through a 3-25 season that created a sort of drawing-a-line-in-the-sand mentality that cold reach its zenith on Saturday.

"At the end of that year I would have chosen not to remember it," Shoji said. "But it adds to story and helped the team come so far. We know how to handle any situation."

Stanford is looking for its first NCAA title since 1997, which was the last year any Cardinal team won a game in the postseason, including the MPSF tournament.

For results and photos of Thursday night's semifinals, go to www.pasportsonline.com 

 

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