On-Air Now
On-Air Now
Listen Live
, ,

Quick Sets: Championship Recap

Championship week has come to an end in Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio State University and the Covelli Center served as great hosts to us all week long for for the 2021 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship. What started with seven teams this past Monday was reduced to two for the National Championship match. 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 remained was what the entire volleyball world wanted to see. 1 versus 2. Top seeded Hawai`i and second seeded BYU. For the Rainbow Warriors, the mantra all season long was #UnfinishedBusiness. In this final 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. And for a third straight Championship…the hardware stays within the BWC.

By Tiff Wells

May 10, 2021 – Fans of both programs, fans of the sport got what they wanted. One versus two for the National Championship. Many feel it was what we could have seen in 2020 if not for the cancellation and shutdown of the sport last March. March 6, 2020 ended up being the final match of the season for both Hawai`i and BYU, with Pat Gasman sending 10,300 inside the Stan Sheriff Center (now SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center) and thousands more around the island, state, nation and world into a frenzy after his walk-off ace. A sport shutdown, a global pandemic, the NCAA extending waivers to all spring sport athletes, seniors coming back to take advantage of a bonus season and earn a graduate certificate or a master’s degree. BYU played their intrasquad scrimmage in late December, around the same time Hawai`i would begin to practice. The Bows practiced for about five to six weeks straight until the Big West Conference announced (were the last conference to make such announcement) that there would indeed be a season. We would indeed have a #WarriorBall21 campaign. An eight-week conference season sprint and with a schedule only against conference opponents. There would be two bye weeks (they’d earn a third between the conference tournament and national championships) in this regular season sprint that would take them to their hosting duties of the 2021 Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Big West Championship, presented by the Hawaiian Islands 14 months in the making.

In a crazy, weird, unusual time we’ve all gone through these last 15 months, this 2021 Men’s National Collegiate Volleyball Championship was all chalk. Higher seeds won every match. Of the possible six matches, four were 3-0 victories and the other two went four sets (UCSB over Pepperdine in Opening Round Match 2 and 2-seed BYU over Lewis in the second semifinal). UH used all 175 of their allotted tickets to distribute to its supporters who all watched that semifinal sweep over conference foe UC Santa Barbara. Many, many more either listened to our broadcast or watched the stream on ncaa.com (some also found ways to sync the video with our audio and we thank you for doing that) around the world. Being on the main concourse, it honestly felt like more than 175 Hawai`i supporters were present. The team could feel the mana.

When a Hawai`i player puts on that jersey, they know they are playing for more than just themselves. They are playing for a state, they are playing for those men who came before them. All of those former players supporting this team from all over the world. It really is a brotherhood and as former Rainbow Warrior and All-American Jason Olive says, “Bows for Life.”

With an 8:05 p.m. EST first serve for the championship, it was a long day of mentally preparing oneself for the final match. This is why players like Parapunov, Gasman, Cowell, Van Eekeren and Anastassiades all came back. To end their career playing for a National Championship.

Photo: Tiff Wells

UH making their second straight appearance in the National Championship and fourth overall, BYU making their eighth overall and first since 2017 (that match hosted at Ohio State, but across the Olentangy River at St. John Arena). Hitting and service errors, combined with the BYU block kept the Cougars in the first set. A kill by Pat Gasman gave UH their first lead at 3-2. There would be a few more ties in that first set (3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 17-17) and the Cougars would even hold a lead (with Gabi Garcia Fernandez serving) at 19-18. As Head Coach Charlie Wade says, “it’s not depth if you don’t use it.” Reserve outside hitter, freshman Spyros Chakas came into serve at 19-all. He would leave after giving UH a 23-20 lead. A kill from Guilherme Voss and then a BYU service error gave UH the 25-21 victory and a 1-0 lead in the match. Offensively, UH hit .400 and sided out at 76%.  Five and half BYU blocks kept BYU in that opening set, but no service aces and more importantly, no long service runs by GGF was a big key for UH in that set. You just felt if UH could limit their errors (they had 12…five hitting, six serving, one blocking), it would be a special night after that 17-kill performance.

Two aces in the beginning of set two, one by Jakob Thelle and one by Colton Cowell helped UH to a 5-4 lead. A lead that would grow to as big as eight on a couple of occasions (16-8, 22-14) before UH would win it by six (25-19) and take a commanding two sets to none lead. We also can’t forget the individual serving performance from the 2021 AVCA National Player of the Year Rado Parapunov late in the set, with three straight service winners. He’d end his career, fourth all-time in Hawai`i history with 111 service aces.

Service pressure all set (and really all match long) had BYU out of system and Cougars setter Wil Stanley running all over the floor to try and set up his offense. Tough serving, making it easy for the Mānoa Roofing Company to set up shot, everything was working for Charlie’s Company. Only nine kills for UH in the set, but six service aces and 10 errors by BYU paved the way for UH to take the commanding lead in the match.

A close out third set for the Bows began with a service ace from Jakob Thelle. That is as close as BYU would get. Even up two sets to none, there was no let up. Bows diving all over the floor, great team defense. They knew the feeling back in 2019…of holding that runners-up trophy.

They didn’t want to have that feeling again. There was #UnfinishedBusiness to attend to. Fitting that First-Team All-American Pat Gasman, who had the final point of the 2020 season against BYU, had the final point of the 2021 season again BYU. A kill through the middle sent the team, the UH side of the arena, the entire state of Hawai`i and all of #WarriorNation around the world into a frenzy. Be at your best when your best is needed. The best was needed to win the title and they certainly left no doubt on the sport court.

A convincing third set, UH hit .400 and sided out at 81%. In the 93 minute-long match, UH hit .381. Outside of being out-blocked 7.5 to 5.5, UH dominated the box score en route to a dominant and one-sided match. UH would win both matches in the tournament by 3-0 scores. The Bows were in system all match long. Much of that credit goes to UH’s three primary passers: Gage Worsley, Colton Cowell and Chaz Galloway. Also credit Jakob Thelle who ran a beautiful offense for the Bows in both matches. Head Coach Charlie Wade told me he wanted his servers to be aggressive, to “pull driver” from the service line. The serve doesn’t have to go for an ace, he was more so looking at serving a gap in between the BYU serve-receive. UH recorded 10 aces for the match, but it was that service pressure that had BYU constantly out-of-system and needing bump sets from their Wil Stanley to get swings in.

To see the final box, please click here.

It had been a long time coming. Head Coach Charlie Wade has always talked about the process. 2015, getting to the Play-in round. 2017, advancing to the Final Four. 2019, making the National Championship. It’s been a six and a half, seven-year process. A lot of credit goes to the previous players in the regime for helping build the identity and culture of this program. Not since 2004 had the University won a national championship (Coed Sailing team won an ICSA Championship). With the 2002 men’s volleyball team having vacated their national championship, this 2021 men’s volleyball title is the school’s first NCAA title since…1987 with women’s volleyball.

With the bracket now complete,

and receiving the trophy from one of the NCAA Selection Committee members (who also happens to be UH Athletics Director David Matlin),

it was time to cut down the nets.

Three from UH would wind up on the All-Tournament Team with Parapunov being named the Most Outstanding Player. To view, click here.

Upon their return to the hotel, the program received a call from the Governor.

Sunday morning was spent flying back home. Coach Wade and his family, along with another member of the program made their way from Columbus to Dallas and then to Honolulu.

The team would fly from Columbus to Atlanta and then to Honolulu. And upon arriving at Daniel K. Inouye International, here’s how they were greeted:

It had been a long day of travel for the program. But there was one more event that needed to be done. A community, an entire state that had helped this program bring back the seniors for one more season, needed to be repaid for everything they had done. A fan base that because of COVID-19 protocols, couldn’t pack SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center to watch #WarriorBall21 live. No fans were allowed for any of the regular season road matches as well. A select group of family and Rainbow Volleyball supporters followed the team to Columbus to watch the final chapters of the season unfold with a championship ending. UH (and every participating school) were given 175 tickets per match to hand out. Those 175 for each of Hawai`i’s two matches were loud and more often than not, it sounded as if it was more. As Head Coach Charlie Wade said, the championship isn’t just for the state of Hawai`i, it’s because of the state of Hawai`i. And with that, the on-campus drive-thru celebration was scheduled.

The traffic in Mānoa was crazy. But to have the chance of being able to see their beloved team in person for the first time, it was well worth the time spent. Shakas, pictures, music, signs, the band and even a championship belt was seen Sunday afternoon. A socially distanced drive-thru celebration, which included UH Head Coaches Robyn Ah Mow and Eran Ganot, all patiently waited their time in line for their shot at giving thanks. It’s been a tough 14-15 months for all of us and at times, there hasn’t been much to cheer about. To be born and raised in Hawai`i, to grow up in the state, there is no professional team. As the only Division I university in the state, the University of Hawai`i IS the Hawai`i pro sports team. This program had been on the cusp of a national title the last few seasons. Other teams in other sports have gotten close, but haven’t won it all. Seeing the watch parties throughout the state, the country and around the world, that Championship night meant a lot and will mean a lot for years to come. UH and its fans finally had a reason to celebrate. They didn’t just watch their team win a national title. They watched their team dominate what many consider to be UH’s rival…BYU. The 72-45 rout in 2001 over then No. 9 and previously undefeated BYU. The 56-14 blowout of the Cougars in 1989. A 59-28 win against Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer. 1998 featured the Rainbow Wahine volleyball team in the longest ever match in NCAA history defeating BYU for the WAC Tournament title. 1995 and Men’s Basketball with Tes Whitlock’s running shot at the buzzer. 1994 with Men’s Basketball winning the WAC Tournament in Provo. Hawai`i fans remember where they were for each of those moments. Add one more to that list: May 8, 2021 with Men’s Volleyball.
To see the travel and celebration day, see the final Backstage Bows video:

In last Saturday’s post-match zoom press conference, Parapunov said “For the state of Hawai`i, that’s for you.” He’s mentioned it a few times throughout the season, that he had a debt to repay after he and the other seniors returned for this 2021 campaign. It was tricky with the 4.5 scholarships, but there was more than enough money funded from Hawai`i fans to fund this 2021 COVID season for the five seniors. As we’ve said, it’s been a long time coming. Debt repaid and then some by Parapunov and this group of seniors.

For a cool look back at the moments leading up to the title night, please see this piece done by Off The Block.

uh mvb
Photo: Hawaii Athletics