With its final bye week of the regular season now in the rearview mirror, #WarriorBall21 (7-0 overall, 2-0 Big West) prepares for the second half of conference play. The number one team in the country, both in the AVCA Coaches and Off the Block Media Polls, UH now sits atop the Big West Conference and are just one of two undefeated teams left in men’s collegiate volleyball. For the Rainbow Warriors, the mantra this season is #UnfinishedBusiness. In this week four edition of “Quick Sets,” Tiff Wells takes a look at two storylines each week, either within the UH program or from around the nation. Year four of the Big West Conference season for men’s volleyball continues with its top team finally playing a match at home.
By Tiff Wells.
March 25, 2021 – There’s nothing like a volleyball match inside SimpliFi Arena at The Stan Sheriff Center. For players outside the Big West Conference, it can sometimes be the highlight of their collegiate career. They will say so in their bio on their schools’ website and even some of the UC San Diego players (UH’s opponent this weekend) have included playing in Honolulu for the Big West Conference Tournament in 2019 was their favorite volleyball memory.
In a venue that holds 10,300 (thank you to the late Stan Sheriff), it’s one of the top volleyball facilities and atmospheres in the nation (yes, we hear you BYU and Nebraska, but we’re a bit biased here on the island). Once you get a crowd above say 5,500 or 6,000, it goes from a match to an event. Tickets become the hot commodity around the island, non-season ticket holders wait in line to try and get admission into the facility. The music, the bowzooka, the aunties (Aunty Lauretta and Aunty Lenora in lower section EE) handing out lei to everyone on both teams after the match, seeing yourself or that face of a keiki on the jumbotron during a timeout and of course, standing for aloha ball all-the-while doing the viking clap, it all makes for a great 90-minute to sometimes three-plus hour event.
UH is 2-0 already this season against UC San Diego, with two non-conference wins in La Jolla, California on February 24th and 25th. Two wins, two sweeps. The Tritons have not played a match since a 5-set win against UC Irvine on March 12th. We also don’t know the status of outside hitter Wyatt Harrison, who sustained an ankle injury in warmups ahead of the night two match against Hawai`i. If he can’t go, Ryan Ka will earn the start again. And Ka has done quite well as the replacement, averaging 3.4 kills per set (fourth in the Big West and 28th nationally entering this week. He’s coming off a career-best 25 kills in that March 12th win versus the Anteaters. Against UH on night two, he hit .391 (12 kills on 23 swings).
It will be vastly different tomorrow night. In place of the fans…cardboard cutouts. Piped in crowd noise replaces the live cheering. We saw and heard it during the Hawai`i basketball season. For a program that’s gone 56-5 at home since 2017, the crowd has played a major factor in providing UH volleyball that great home-court advantage. The players have acknowledged it will be quite different beginning with tomorrow night’s home match against No. 12 UC San Diego (1-5, 1-1). They’ve brought that energy with them for the first seven matches on the road this season. They hope to continue that here at home, where six of the final eight regular season matches are at SimpliFi Arena at The Stan Sheriff Center. For 384 days, we have been unable to say, “#WarriorBall match night on the island.” That changes come Friday night, the first home dance of #WarriorBall21.