Monday, May 2, 2022 | By Tiff Wells
For a third consecutive NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship, the University of Hawai`i Men’s Volleyball is in the field of seven. But for the first time in program history, the Rainbow Warriors return as the defending champions. Making their fifth appearance in the last seven men’s volleyball tournaments and eighth overall in program history, Hawai`i (24-5) received the No. 3 seed and learned of their opponent on Sunday night.
An overnight flight into Los Angeles followed by a practice session hours later at UCLA, UH headed to Pauley Pavilion to live scout the first of three Opening Round matches. North Greenville (20-5, autobid from the Conference Carolinas) and Princeton (15-12, autobid from the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) opened up the 2022 National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship with the winner to face Hawai`i. Princeton was a surprise from the EIVA, having upset heavy favorite Penn State on their home floor in the EIVA conference tournament semifinals. North Greenville was making it’s first ever NCAA appearance and was looking to make history. No team from the Conference Carolinas had ever won an NCAA tournament match. In fact, in the previous six tournaments, the Conference Carolinas representative had won just one set.
The Conference Carolinas representative got out to a quick 2-0 lead (25-21, 25-18) on the Tigers. A marathon third set went to the Crusaders as they won it 40-38 to take the match 3-0. History made for both the school and for the conference.
Not many gave North Greenville a chance to win their conference tournament. Even fewer felt they could defeat Princeton in the NCAAs.
Freshman opposite Gregory Torres led all North Greenville attackers with 19 kills. Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, Michael de la Cruz recorded 10 kills on 17 swings through the middle to hit .529 for the match. A team known for their floor defense, NGU notched 29 digs.
Even though UH is the defending champions, it’s a very different team than the one that won it all last season. Gone are four All-Americans (including three that were named to the First-Team). Earlier on Monday, UH learned that Jakob Thelle (First-Team), Guilherme Voss and Spyros Chakos (both on Second-Team) and Dimitrios Mouchlias (Honorable Mention) were named All-Americans. In the span of four weeks, UH went from possible at-large bid consideration to Big West Conference Tournament champions with a bye into the third Opening Round match.
Tuesday marks the first ever meeting between Hawai`i and North Greenville. All-Time against members of the Conference Carolinas, UH is 7-0 with six of the seven wins being 3-0. All eyes look to a semifinal showdown and a third meeting here in 2022 with No. 2 seed Ball State (autobid from the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) on Thursday.
First thing’s first though. UH must take care of NGU to survive and advance into that Thursday Semifinal match.
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