International Volleyball

The beauties, challenges of life as the world’s best libero

The beauties, challenges of life as the world's best libero

HERMOSA BEACH, California — There would be no daycare services needed. Not for Dave and Mary Shoji. They had a free one available, any day of the week, Monday-Sunday. Plenty of babysitters, too. Lots to do. It just so happened that those baby-sitters were a smattering of the best volleyball players in the country, and the list of activities at the Stan Sheriff Center, where Dave coached the University of Hawai’i women’s volleyball team, included anything to do with a volleyball.

Mostly: Keep it off the floor.

“That’s where I had after-school care,” Erik Shoji said on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “We went to the gym. We weren’t forced to play but we were put in this environment where we were around the ball, we were around high-level players. We went to every single match. We fell in love with the game that way.”

Somehow, more than two decades later, he has never fallen out of love with it.

After four years as a first-team All-State selection at Punahou in high school, four more as a first-team All-America libero at Stanford, and 12 more as a professional overseas, Shoji feels “lucky that I’ve never really, truly been burned out on volleyball,” he said. “I’ve loved this sport from a very young age and I’ve had a huge passion for it. I feel lucky that I have this fire in me that hasn’t gone out just yet.”

It’s easy to see, that fire. Peruse his social media, and his passion is impossible to miss. His reactions on his YouTube Channel when breaking down film are so original and charming and endearing it is no wonder he has 171,000-plus subscribers. Watch him play, either with Zaksa, his current club in Poland, or this summer for the USA National Team, and one cannot help but feel a jolt of his enthusiasm.

“I have a lot of energy for volleyball,” he said. “It’s just something that I have.”

And he’s had it since it served as the one-and-only activity of his makeshift daycare.

There was something about those after-school days in the gym that were ineluctable to Shoji. Perhaps clouded by the nostalgia of youth, Erik has only the fondest memories of being toted to either the Hawai’i practice or his own, entertaining himself by slapping around a ball, putting a target on the wall and passing, passing, passing. When asked how he is able to dig the back-row attacks of a TJ DeFalco in the USA gym, or the outrageous angles of…

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