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Quick Sets: Hawaii vs. UC Santa Barbara

It’s champ week! Columbus, Ohio and the Covelli Center is the site for the 2021 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship. What started with seven teams is now down to four. Conference Carolina champion Belmont Abbey bowed out on Monday. Pepperdine (At-Large out of the MPSF) and Penn State (EIVA champion) were eliminated on Tuesday. Top seed Hawai`i, second seed BYU, Lewis and UC Santa Barbara is your 2021 Final Four. The Bows know their opponent and it’s fellow Big West Conference member UCSB. If you were able to watch any of the two opening round matches played on Tuesday, you were treated to some of the most high quality level of volleyball of the season. For the Rainbow Warriors, the mantra this season has been #UnfinishedBusiness. In this week ten edition of “Quick Sets,” Tiff Wells looks at storylines from Columbus, either within the UH program or from around the nation. Year four of the Big West Conference season for men’s volleyball sees their top two teams amongst the Final Four and playing one another for a fourth time this season, with the winner advancing to the National Championship.

By Tiff Wells

May 6, 2021 – It’s finally game day! It’s been 13 long days since the first loss of the season. We all know what happened against UC San Diego. It wasn’t the same Hawai`i team we’ve watched all season long. During Wednesday’s zoom press conference, Rado Parapunov told the media he felt he was the reason the team wasn’t playing on Championship Saturday. He’s always held himself to a very high standard and expects to perform at a very high level in each and every match. No one is placing the blame on any one player and it’s almost unfair to do so because it’s a team sport. He holds himself accountable and knows that performance won’t cut it here in Columbus.

For maybe a day or two, there was talk about what went wrong against UC San Diego. From talking about it to watching film, that’s what the team did. Then that was it. Once they learned on Sunday, April 25th that they were in the National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship and given the No. 1 seed, the Bows turned all of their attention to preparing for UC Santa Barbara or Pepperdine. The entire UH coaching staff was at the Covelli Center on Tuesday to live scout the UC Santa Barbara match. As Coach Wade told us during the week of the Big West Championship, getting that extra day to live scout and get rest is huge. Guys are chomping at the bit to get on the floor for their first match since the loss. If you’ve followed Backstage Bows with Spectrum Sports’ Ryan Kalei Tsuji or have seen the videos or pictures posted onto social media, the team is staying loose, but doing so with focus. This is why the seniors came back for this season…to give back to the program and state. To play for a chance at a national title. It’s also the first time for UH to be playing in front of fans. Each team was given 175 tickets for each of their matches to distribute at their choosing. Having the family members in person to see their sons play live will be something.

This will be the fourth meeting this season between Hawai`i and UC Santa Barbara, with the Bows going 3-0 in Santa Barbara March 11-13. UH hit no lower than .322 in any of the matches, while the quick offense of the Gauchos hit above .260 just once. The Gauchos won just one set in the series this season. Since that third loss to UH, UCSB has won 11-straight (currently the NCAA’s longest active win streak) and 12 of their last 13. In the national rankings, these teams go 1 (UH) and 2 (UCSB) in hitting percentage and kills per set. UH is in the top five nationally when it comes to blocks per set, while UCSB is fourth nationally in digs per set. With two great ball control teams and with their offensive numbers being almost equal, whichever team can perform better defensively (in blocks or digs) should have the edge at the end of the night.

All-time, UH leads the series 53-37. In the postseason, UH leads 5-2 and has won the last two. This is the first NCAA meeting in the series history. With the two Big West Conference foes in the same semifinal, it ensures the BWC will have a representative in the championship match for a third straight National Championship.

Semifinal Thursday begins with No. 1 Hawai`i and UC Santa Barbara. Our coverage begins at 10:45 a.m. HST / 1:45 p.m. PST / 4:45 p.m. EST on ESPN Honolulu (92.7-FM / 1420-AM), ESPNHonolulu.com and on the free Sideline Hawai`i app. Lewis and No. 2 BYU are set to start at either 8:00 p.m. EST OR 35 minutes after the completion of the UH/UCSB match. In what has been a different type of season, the final four is what most expected to be. These four teams have been the best four all season long, with all four being ranked in the top four of the coaches poll each week. Sure both matches will be streamed on www.ncaa.com; I just hope the NCAA is ready for the amount of IP addresses from the islands that will be logging in to watch. I hope the site doesn’t crash.

With that said, we need to continue the #GrowTheGame movement. If the sport wants to use this phrase and continue believing in it, then find a way to put ALL matches from the national championship on television. BTNPlus and ncaa.com are fine, but it’s a travesty to have just one of the six national championship matches on television. Do better NCAA, do better.

Also a huge congratulations goes out to Rado Parapunov. Last week Monday, he was named Big West Conference Player of the Year for a second straight season. Then yesterday morning, this came out:

For just the fourth time in program history and first since Costas Theocharidis in 2003, the Player of the Year came from the University of Hawai`i. A very prestigious award, Parapunov was quick to say during the Wednesday zoom with the media that while the award is nice and it’s an honor, volleyball is a team sport and he shares it with all of his teammates and coaches. It’s an award. It’s not THE award. Another step towards that final destination for this team award begins later today against conference foe UC Santa Barbara.

The hashtag all season long for UH has been unfinished business. And with this second chance opportunity to continue their season, there’s no tomorrow. Survive and advance. Win or go home. With no crowd for road matches this season (the SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center crew piped in recordings of the State Anthem from various local musicians), the team took it upon themselves to sing Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī. It’s been a tradition unlike any other this season for #WarriorBall21…of singing Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī. The last time the Bows played in a venue with fans, it was at home in front of a sellout crowd. Today, the players and coaches will sing it, with the help of 175 (perhaps a few more?) of their closest friends. If you’re listening to us while on the road or working from home, or watching the stream from your locale, you just might find yourself singing along too.

To view the entire bracket, click here.