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Quick Sets: Semifinal Recap

Photo: Wayne Coito / Hawaii Sports Fans

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 two. 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. Big West tournament champion UC Santa Barbara and MIVA regular season and tournament champion Lewis were both eliminated in Thursday’s semifinals. All that’s remaining is 1 versus 2. Top seeded Hawai`i and second seeded BYU to play for the National Championship on Saturday evening. 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 conference represented in the National Championship match for a third straight Championship.  

By Tiff Wells | May 7, 2021

This was the scene Thursday afternoon at the Covelli Center on the campus of The Ohio State University. Live fans in attendance and with each team getting 175 tickets to distribute for each match they participate in, UH took full advantage as all 175 of their supporters (most in green and white) were loud from the pre-game warmups through the post match bracket advancing ceremony. Head Coach Charlie Wade mentioned during Wednesday’s press conference of what it would be like to have live fans for the first time this season. That point was re-emphasized in Thursday’s post match press conference as he described it as “chicken skin.” Our broadcast position was on the main concourse, about 16 or so rows up and aligned with the 10-foot line on the Hawai`i side of the arena.

Photo: Tiff Wells

As soon as the doors opened for fans with tickets, “Chee Hoo” and “Let’s Go Bows” could be heard as UH supporters entered and found their seats. Smiles came from the players as they looked for their parents. Hawai`i flags, ti-leaves, signs and a couple Bulgaria flags for Rado Parapunov were all around the UH side of the arena. This team has been focused and locked in ever since they found out on April 25th that they were the No. 1 overall seed. But for a few moments, it was nice to see the team smile when they made eye contact with a family member.

Shakas were flashed by the team as each were introduced and then it was game on.

Hawai`i didn’t get its first lead until 9-8 in the opening set. Two services aces and six and a half total team blocks were the difference as UH won that first set 25-21. UH only hit .233, but held the quick offense of the Gauchos to a mere .188. Here’s how set 1 ended:

Two more service aces and five more blocks paved the way for the Bows as they led the entire second set en route to a 25-18 victory and a 2-0 lead in the match. Hawai`i hit .290 in set two, the Gauchos at .000. Both teams are led by experienced players, many of whom are seniors that came back for this COVID 2021 season. But it just seemed the experience of playing in a National Semifinal twice before (2019 with Pat Gasman, Colton Cowell, Gage Worsley and Rado Parapunov, and then in 2017 with Gasman and Parapunov) really helped the Bows stay focused at key points. Here’s how set 2 ended:

UC Santa Barbara grabbed their first lead at 9-8, their first lead since the opening set. But a key 6-0 service run by Jakob Thelle helped the Bows to a 15-12 lead. A lead they wouldn’t give up. Rado Parapunov’s 12th kill ended the 3rd set, 25-23 in UH’s favor as the Bows would improve to 16-1 on the season and a perfect 4-0 against UCSB (16-5 overall) here in 2021. Here’s how the match ended:

The Bows outhit the Gauchos .263 to .170. That .170 hitting percentage was UCSB’s 4th sub .200 hitting performance of the season and it was their lowest hitting percentage of a match in 2021. UH had a good ratio from the service line: 6 service aces to 11 service errors (UCSB had 1 ace, 10 errors). It’s coach speak to say “if you win the serve/pass battle, you have a very good chance to win.” UH won the serve/pass battle, led by three-time, first-team All-American Libero and Off the Block’s Steve Shondell winner as the nation’s best passer Gage Worsley. A 13.5 to four blocking advantage for the Bows as well, including those six and a half in the opening, helped to pave the way for UH to make their way into the National Championship for a fourth time in program history (1196, 2002, 2019). One statistical advantage UCSB had was digging. Coming into the match, they were tops in the Big West Conference and fourth nationally with 10.41 digs per set. Yes they would outdig Hawai`i, but the Bows held their own and were only outdug by 3 (39-36).

As you watched the match, you also may have seen the tournament bracket banner that hangs courtside. Well, with the win by Hawai`i, it was time to make an update to it.

Head Coach Charlie Wade likes to say, “be at your best when your best is needed.” We also have heard the line “big time players make big time plays in big time games.” UH’s five All-Americans all showed up huge in the win against UCSB. Pat Gasman had 10 kills on 16 errorless swings to hit .625 and was in on six blocks. Rado Parapunov recorded the double-double (12 kills, 11 digs) and was in on five blocks. Gage Worsley had nine digs and two assists. Colton Cowell put down 10 kills and had four digs, while Jakob Thelle served three aces and dished out 32 assists.

Survive and advance into Championship Saturday where UH will play in the program’s fourth ever National Championship match. Their opponent…long time rival BYU. The Cougars needed four sets to get past Lewis in the nightcap semifinal.

Coincidence that the final opponent for each was the other back on March 6, 2020 in Honolulu. The final opponent for each here in 2021 is the other.

Rest up Hawai`i fans. You’ll need that voice as you cheer on your Bows come Championship Saturday. One final dance of #WarriorBall21 is on the horizon.

Photo: Wayne Coito / Hawaii Sports Fans