Sunday | October 22, 2017
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College volleyball: UH, Long Beach put new faces on rivalry

It’s not your mother’s Big West anymore.

Heck, it’s not even your tutu’s Big West — or Pacific Coast Athletic Association as they knew it from 1985-87.

What was once one of the premier rivalries in women’s college volleyball will have a new face — actually two new faces — when Hawaii (11-6, 5-1) and Long Beach State (5-14, 2-4) meet for the 51st time on Friday at the Walter Pyramid. For the first time since 1984, it won’t be the Rainbow Wahine’s Dave Shoji against the 49ers’ Brian Gimmillaro as opposing coaches shaking hands at midcourt before the first whistle.

Rather it will be two of the most respected All-Americans in the history of their respective programs: Robyn Ah Mow-Santos, who set Hawaii to its last national runner-up finish in 1996, and Joy McKienzie-Fuerbringer, the setter for The Beach’s second NCAA championship in 1993.

“I think it’s just great that two former setters, two All-Americans, are heading up their programs now,” said Shoji, who retired in February after 42 seasons at Manoa. “We need more female coaches and it’s so appropriate for it to be Robyn and Joy taking over two great programs.

“But it will be strange not to be there.”

Gimmillaro, who retired in June after 32 seasons, will be. He is being honored during Friday’s match and “it will be weird,” he said. “It’s going to be different, especially for the fans who have followed our programs and the rivalry.

“Both teams have had so many great players, there’s the history, the volleyball tradition. That’s what you want as a coach, you want to play against the best, compete against the best. It’s what we had with Hawaii. It’s a luxury you don’t get every night.”

Consider that between 1987 and 2003 the programs had a combined 10 AVCA players of the year: Hawaii’s Teee Williams (1987, co-POY in ‘89), Angelica Ljungqvist (1996) Kim Willoughby (2003), and Long Beach State’s Tara Cross (1988, co POY in ‘89), Antoinette White (1991), Danielle Scott (1993), Misty May (1997-98).

It was hardly a rivalry in the beginning. The Wahine were 18-0-1 against the 49ers, including 11-0 against Gimmillaro who took over in 1985.

It wasn’t a rivalry until it mattered. That came in the third meeting in 1989 when Long Beach State ruined Hawaii’s Christmas, eliminating the top-ranked Wahine in the NCAA regional final played at Pacific in five sets.

Instead of playing the following week at Blaisdell Arena — the first time Hawaii hosted the final four — the Wahine watched as the 49ers defeated Texas-San Antonio in four and then sweep Nebraska 15-12, 15-0, 15-6 with the Huskers hitting .000.

“That was definitely hard to watch when we got home,” Shoji said. “That ‘89 loss to them was definitely one of the worst for the program. We were playing to come home where Blaisdell would be packed.”

Instead what was the 49ers’ first victory over the Wahine turned into a pattern, one where Long Beach State won 13 of the next 16 meetings with Hawaii. One where the 49ers ended the Wahine’s season in the NCAA tournament four of the next five years between 1990 and ‘94, another three times in the regional final and once in the regional semifinal.

“It was part of the unfairness by the NCAA (selection) committee,” Gimmillaro said. “Several times, our regional was more difficult than the final four. Five times we played each other to go to the final four when, if we had had separate routes, we might have been playing for the (NCAA) title.

“Then in the later years, with what happened nationally, with the (Ratings Percentage Index), it wasn’t to get to the final four. It was just to get into the (NCAA) tournament. I think that made our matches even more important because of what was at stake (the automatic NCAA berth by winning the conference).”

The rivalry took somewhat of a hiatus when Hawaii left the Big West for the Western Athletic Conference (1996-2011).

They only faced each other five times over those 12 years with the Wahine winning both of the NCAA tournament matches (regional semifinal in 2000, second round in 2006).

“It’s always been a heated rivalry,” Shoji said. “The fans looked forward to the matches. For us, it was almost like Hawaii-BYU in football. Our fans didn’t like (the 49ers) and I don’t think our players liked them.

“I’ve always enjoyed coaching against Brian. We’re both so competitive. It was always a tactical kind of match. He’s one of those guys who coaches so hard, was always on the ref. He was constantly in motion, and I would find myself watching him. We always had mutual respect for each other.”

And both are enjoying retirement, which has included some television work. Gimmillaro is working on a volleyball instructional video and Shoji has been able to travel more to watch his sons Kawika and Erik play for the U.S. national team.

On Sunday, Shoji will be inducted into the UH Sports Circle of Honor during the Green & White Celebration at the Sheriff Center.

 

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