As the son of a volleyball legend, the bar for excellence has been set high for Kawika Shoji, who, on May 5, was named the 2010 American Volleyball Coaches Association Men’s Division I-II National Player of the Year. A few days later, the senior setter would go on to lead his team in winning the 2010 NCAA men’s volleyball championship. It is the team’s first such win since 1997.
For those in the know, the Shoji name — particularly in Hawai‘i — is synonymous with volleyball. Kawika’s father Dave has coached the University of Hawai‘i women’s volleyball team for the past 35 years, winning four national titles.
Both father and son have earned multiple All-American honors in the sport, the elder Shoji while playing for University of California, Santa Barbara.
Mary Shoji, who is married to Dave, is herself a lifelong athlete. A former basketball player, she has served as the assistant coach for the Punahou School girls’ volleyball team, and has also taught middle-school P.E. at the school.
Whereas the younger Shoji has spent his college career more than 2,500 miles from home, family members have always been close by. His older sister Cobey is Stanford’s director of volleyball operations, and also played the sport at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the University of Michigan.
And last year the Nikkei and his younger brother and teammate Erik became the first brothers ever to earn All-American first-team honors in the same year.
While Shoji’s days as an undergraduate student are quickly coming to an end, volleyball remains a part of his immediate future: he is currently training with the USA Men’s National Volleyball Team, and will learn this summer where he will play overseas.
Shoji’s life, however, does not revolve solely around the sport. He is considering going to law school or pursuing a master’s degree in education. He ultimately wants to return to the 50th state to raise a family, he told the Nichi Bei Weekly during a phone interview.
While Shoji has previously been “more involved with the Japanese side” of his family, he said, noting Hawai‘i’s larger Asian American community, he also identifies with his mother’s family. Shoji’s father is of Japanese descent, and his mother, who is from North Dakota, is of Norwegian, English, German and Irish descent.
Shoji’s paternal grandparents were born in California, and met in the Poston, Ariz. concentration camp during World War II. His grandfather, Shoji added, fought with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Just as Shoji’s own family reflects an easy mix of cultures, so does his championship team. Seven of the 20 young men hail from Hawai‘i, with others coming from such states as California, Texas and Wisconsin. Having “grown up with a bunch of the guys on the team” provided an undeniable advantage. They have “similar backgrounds on and off the court. It improves the chemistry,” which, Shoji said, is crucial.
Though the brothers’ days as teammates may have come to an end (in high school they played for rival teams, Kawika for ‘Iolani School and Erik for Punahou), eyes are now on the youngest Shoji. In 2009 Erik set the unofficial national record for digs in a season, with 447. Perhaps a couple of years from now Erik will have followed in his older brother’s footsteps yet again in taking his game to the next level.
Until then, Kawika Shoji, as is the family way, will undoubtedly aim to raise his standard of play, all the while seeking the next win.