Just about every University of Hawaii hiring in recent memory has appeared smart on its surface. There haven’t been any that were head scratchers at the time, no matter how it has played out once the coach took over in their new role.
That being said, it’s hard to recall a hire that makes as much sense as Robyn Ah Mow-Santos taking over the head coaching position for the women’s volleyball program.
It seems like a home run on every level. Ah Mow-Santos has an infallible resume as a player since her tenure under Dave Shoji in the mid-90’s. She went on to become a three-time Olympian and has a silver medal stashed among her possessions.
She also worked under Shoji for four years as an assistant, so she understands the inner workings of the program from both a player and administrator’s perspective.
Here’s why it makes so much sense. Because of her prowess and familiarity within the UH volleyball community, there isn’t that pressure to “replace” Shoji, which would be an impossible task. Imagine a new coach — some well-traveled, middle-aged male — trying to come in and take over that position. All the previous experience in the world probably wouldn’t translate into the goodwill that Ah Mow-Santos will receive.
She has the rare ability to combine ideas of both continuity within the program and a fresh face to begin a new era. Her arrival brings an exciting new stage in the timeline of UH women’s volleyball, but it also keeps a connection to the past and everything that has been accomplished already.
The hiring process was a strange one, with the athletic department posting the position before Shoji formally announced his retirement. It seemed like a foregone conclusion, but it left the door open in case the right candidate didn’t emerge. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, because Shoji can now exit with the peace of mind that things, as best as we can predict, will continue to run smoothly.
After 42 years, any transition away from Shoji was going to be a difficult one. But hiring Ah Mow-Santos to lead the Wahine is as good an option as could ever have been expected. She’ll have the fan support from day one and she’ll provide some fresh excitement.
Trying to match Shoji’s accomplishments is a fool’s errand. He won 1,202 matches and four national championships. Goals like those aren’t even in the same realm as a first-year coach just trying to find her niche.
What Shoji has done during his UH career isn’t anything that can be taught. He’s provided a level of excellence, consistency and stamina that just isn’t seen very often. And he’s done it with class and dignity, always showing the best of Hawaii. Shoji can feel assured that the future of the Wahine program, for both the short-term and long-term, is now in very capable hands. Hopefully he can move forward to focus fully on his health and treatment.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.