On the floor of Wells Fargo Arena on Friday night will be two of college volleyball’s storied programs.
They both have multiple national titles and draw some of the nation’s biggest crowds.
Both also have two of the game’s top coaches.
No. 7 Penn State (28-5) is chasing a third straight NCAA Championship, and eighth in program history, when it battles Hawaii (28-1) at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the regional semifinals in Des Moines, Iowa.
The winner heads to the regional finals at 6 p.m. Saturday, to face the victor between No. 2 Minnesota (28-4) and Illinois (21-12), who meet at 6 p.m. Friday.
It’s the nightcap that has a historic matchup on the sideline. They may not get on the court, but they will take part in their own version of a chess match when Russ Rose meets Dave Shoji.
The pair are first and second in all-time Division I victories. Rose has 1,189 over 37 seasons, and Shoji has 1,178 in 41 years. The only way to get more wins in the court is to bring in Navy’s Larry Bock, who has 1,305 wins, most of them at Division III Juniata.
Rose and Shoji have crossed paths a number of times over the years.
When Rose was a graduate student in the late 1970s, honing his coaching skills, he said he was already studying what Shoji was doing in Hawaii and trying to model parts of his game after Hawaii’s.
When Rose guided the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA title in 1999, it was won in Honolulu. And when Rose earned his 1,000th career coaching win, he beat the Rainbow Wahini in the 2009 NCAA semifinals. It came just weeks after Shoji had posted No. 1,000 on his resume. The next season they both passed former UCLA mentor Andy Banachowski, who had been No. 1 on the wins list, and not long after, Rose passed Shoji for the No. 1 spot.
“I don’t look at it as me against Dave,” Rose said Tuesday when asked about facing his friend. “We’ve known each other for a long time. We’ll want to beat each other during the match, and whoever wins will wish the other good luck and in that conversation actually mean it, which isn’t standard, I’m afraid, in a lot of conversations.”
Along with their coaches, both programs have deep histories. Hawaii has three national titles to its credit, and has droves of homegrown talent, while Penn State is the beacon of volleyball in the eastern U.S. Both also are in the top five in attendance this year, with Hawaii drawing nearly 7,000 fans per match, and Penn State seeing almost 4,000 turn out each night.
The Rainbow Wahini enter the match with the nation’s longest win streak at 23 straight, and the match will see two of the nation’s top blocking teams. Hawaii leads the nation with 3.18 blocks per set, while Penn State is third at 3.11 per set.
“They’re a physical team,” Rose said. “They have great size and their middles are really good. I think when they control the ball, nobody has a better winning record in the country than Hawaii.”
Penn State has a big advantage in experience — with four returning starters from last year’s NCAA title team.
“Certainly they have experience having been on the floor,” Rose said. “Ali (Frantti) was on the floor last year, Haleigh (Washington) was on the floor. Those guys need to step up and play at a high level.”
The coaches may get the attention Friday night, but it will be up to the Nittany Lions on the court to find some consistency to keep up their chase for another crown.
“I think all of us are ready and confident to play Hawaii,” Frantti said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
What: NCAA regional semifinals
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
Who: No. 2 Minnesota (28-4) vs. Illinois (21-12), 6 p.m.; No. 7 Penn State (28-5) vs. Hawaii (28-1)
When: Regional semifinals Friday, regional final 6 p.m. Saturday
TV: ESPN3 (online) Friday; ESPNU, Saturday