Monday, April 25, 2022 | By Tiff Wells
That direct flight from anywhere in California to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu takes anywhere from five to six hours. After two losses at Long Beach State three weeks ago, that flight back to the island seemed to take even longer in the minds of the UH Men’s Volleyball team. Dropping in the Big West Conference standings from a tie for first place into fourth with four matches to go, there was no room for error. Considering that in the three previous Big West Conference Tournaments, no team had ever won three matches over three days to win the conference tournament. Wins were needed. Some help was needed as well to help UH get back into the top of the standings and obtain one of the two coveted byes into the 2022 Outrigger Big West Men’s Volleyball Championship, presented by the Hawaiian Islands . Over the final two weeks of conference play, UH won all four of their matches (two at home over UC Santa Barbara, two on the road at UC Irvine) and received some outside help to receive the second seed and a bye into the Friday semifinal.
Some say it’s hard to beat a team three times. Knowing they had to win against UC Santa Barbara (a loss more than likely meant no consideration for an at-large bid), the focus was there from the opening serve in Friday’s late semifinal. Offensive production from the reigning AVCA National Player of the Week Dimitrios Mouchlias (15 kills, hit .419) and his fellow countryman Spyros Chakas (11 kills, hit .364) carried the offense to a .388 hitting percentage. Add in the overall team defense (13 total team blocks, 32 digs), Head Coach Charlie Wade oversaw a 3-0 (25-18, 26-24, 25-14) convincing win over the Gauchos that put his team into the tournament final…at home…against rival Long Beach State.
The last time The Beach was here…a three hour, fourteen minute marathon match took place, that included artificial noise that may or may not have been too loud and some words exchanged by the two head coaches. Everyone knew that if it indeed would be UH and LBSU in the Championship match, in front of a live crowd, that decibel level would be even higher.
And it was. An announced crowd of 6,389 was loud from the beginning. The inability to close out sets at Long Beach changed in Honolulu with the help of the home crowd. Holding off two Long Beach set point opportunities in the opening set, UH won 27-25. Different story in set two, UH held off three LBSU set point opportunities to win 28-26 and take a commanding two-zero lead in the match. The first two sets were decided by two points each, what would make you think anything would be different the rest of the way? UH went on a 5-0 run midway through set three courtesy of Kana`i Akana. A Spyros Chakas kill to end the set(25-23) and give UH the 3-0 sweep sent the crowd into a frenzy. For the second time in four Big West Men’s Volleyball Championships, UH won the title. Setter Jakob Thelle recorded his second double-double (43 assists, 11 digs) was named the Most Outstanding Player. A combined 32 kills from Chakas and Mouchlias helped UH to a .368 hitting percentage. Eight blocks and 35 digs helped to limit Long Beach State to a .275 hitting percentage. The Bows were able to slow down two of The Big Three for The Beach. Alex Nikolov got his kills (match high 19), but hit .286. Spencer Olivier added eight kills and Clarke Godbold had just six kills (hit .048).
Two RPI top eight wins in two days, including one them over RPI number one helped UH (24-5) earn the three seed when the bracket was announced on Sunday morning. UH makes their eighth NCAA Appearance in program history. The run to defend their National Championship starts on Tuesday, May 3rd at 7:30 p.m. PT against the winner of the first opening round match between North Greenville (20-5, Conference Carolina auto-bid recipient) and Princeton (15-12, EIVA auto-bid recipient). Tuesday’s winner faces No. 2 seed Ball State (23-3, MIVA auto-bid recipient). The Cardinals went 2-0 against UH this season, but the Rainbow Warriors were without three starters (Thelle, Guilherme Voss and Chaz Galloway) for both of those matches. On the other side of the bracket, Pepperdine (19-9, MPSF auto-bid recipient) faces host UCLA (21-4, at-large recipient) in the Tuesday Quarterfinal that precedes the UH match. Top seeded Long Beach State (20-5, at-large recipient) awaits the Pepperdine/UCLA winner. The semifinal winners meet in Saturday’s Championship match at 5 p.m. PT.
ESPN Honolulu will be live inside Pauley Pavilion with the Rainbow Warriors all tournament long and we hope to see a bunch of Hawai`i fans there as well.
x x x