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Kawika Shoji to be keynote speaker at Hawaii Hall of Honor ceremony

May 30—1/1

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STAR-ADVERTISER

Kawika Shoji (7) lunges forward to save a loose ball during the Team USA Men's Volleyball Red v Blue scrimmage at the Kamehameha School gymnasium in Honolulu, HI.

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This year's Hawaii Hall of Honor keynote speaker is a 2006 inductee who will return to the banquet with a legendary line of accolades.

The two-time Olympian spent a decade as a setter for the United States men's national volleyball team with numerous gold, silver and bronze finishes on the world stage to show for his years of dedication, during which he also made room for a professional career overseas that took him to Finland, Germany, Turkey, Russia, Italy and Poland.

The two-time American Volleyball Coaches Association first-team All-American also led Stanford to a national championship win in 2010, the same year he was named the AVCA Player of the Year.

Come Sunday, what the former 'Iolani star, now a financial advisor and portfolio manager for Regency Capital at the age of 36, hopes to convey to the next generation of Hawaii-grown athletes has little to do with his aforementioned achievements.

Eighteen years removed from when he sat among a dozen of the state's most promising young athletes as the then-Honolulu Advertiser State Player of the Year in both volleyball and basketball, he wishes he knew what he would only fully realize across a couple of match-less months in the aftermath of the initial COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

Alas, Kawika Shoji had himself an offseason.

"When you're in a season all the time competing and needing to win matches, it's really hard to to be OK with bad days," he told the Star-Advertiser.

After Kawika graduated from Stanford in 2010, his subsequent professional career in Europe ended after 12 years. His roster spot with the U.S. national team spanned 10.

The schedule he carried in the midst of those commitments left less than a month of down time in the typical calendar year, as would be the case for any pro volleyball player fortunate enough to represent their country of origin.

It was easy to get caught up in the race for results.

"You go from your European league to the national team, back to your European League, back to the national team, and it's just kind of this hamster wheel," Shoji said.

He and his brother, Erik, a renowned volleyball player in his own right, knew the feeling all too well.

"The club professional season runs from roughly September to May, and the national team season starts in May and ends in August," Erik said. "So in between those, we'll have maybe, in general, a week or two off, and then you're transitioning teams, you're moving from country to country, and you're back playing.

"At the most, I've gotten two weeks off the last 12 years — except for COVID."

When restrictions were loosened, Kawika, Erik and Kamehameha alumnus Micah Christensen took to a private gym to train with no coaches or onlookers.

Former University of Hawaii women's volleyball coach Dave Shoji, the father of Kawika and Erik, occasionally tagged along.

Otherwise, for two hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, three national team members were nothing more than two setters and a libero looking to get better on an empty court.

"The reality of being on the national team and being a pro is that you're evaluated every day and basically every touch of the ball that you have," Erik said.

"For all of us, and especially Kawika, I think COVID was a time to really reset and to start working on technique and different ways to get better without having to worry about being evaluated. There's not a lot of time in our game to truly work at your craft without having to worry about results and statistics and being watched by coaches."

Having recaptured his raw appreciation for the intricacies of the sport, Kawika's newfound focus took him to the finish line, for an already enviable career, on the other end of another Olympics and a pair of pro campaigns.

"The biggest thing is to stay process-oriented through every step of the journey ... an extremely difficult concept to live by in a really results-oriented world," he said.