Championship Chronicles: From a Fan’s POV (Matthew Ganibi)

Championship Chronicles: From a Fan’s POV (Matthew Ganibi)

Friday, May 6, 2022 | By Matthew Ganibi (Instagram: @hamburgermatty)

“The most important ships in life are relationships, friendships & championships.” – I’m confident that I made that quote up. But if someone more famous than myself coined it, then give credit where credit is due.

Howzit Hawai’i?!

It’s 2:00 AM California time and the stoke has finally settled after the five-set thriller that unfolded in Westwood, CA. After a 30-minute drive up the 405, I scrambled to find my way to the famous Pauley Pavilion on the beautiful UCLA campus – a gem of the affluent Westwood community. Shout out to Off The Block’s Jonathan Bates – a personal friend, for his help with figuring out the parking situation in such unfamiliar surroundings. After emerging from the Structure 7 stairs, I power walked my way past Drake Stadium and the Wasserman Football Center (no Darius Muasau or Titus Mokiao-Atimalala sightings to report) and eventually found the John Wooden Statue along with an entrance to the match. Hello, 2022 National Championship!

After clearing security and immediately noticing the larger-than-life Molten volleyball (an NCAA tournament staple – how do you not snap a photo of it?), I noticed a swarm of shocked UCLA fans and a few boastful fans of Long Beach State heading my way. Oh my, what did I miss?! Before jumping into my car, the tournament-hosting Bruins were in complete control as they ran away with a 2-0 lead (UCLA over LBSU: 25-18 in both sets). By the time I weaved my way through Sunset Boulevard to get to the lovely Westwood campus, Pops informed me that the match was going to five – neck and neck battle! By the time I negotiated my way through the incoming crowd, the Bruins and Beach were already shaking hands. Wow, Long Beach punched their ticket to Championship Saturday.

With certain fans filing out in either disappointment or delight, I was trying to locate a spot amongst the green & white faithful. I started to make moves toward the other side of the Pavilion when a lady asked me where the UH fans were sitting.

“I was just about to ask someone that question!” I responded. “It looks like they’re mostly seated on the other end of the pavilion, are you headed that way?”

Turns out, the lady that I had the privilege of sitting with in the UH section was a long-time season ticket holder from Mānoa… Howzit Aunty Cynthia! As we made our way to the Rainbow Warrior section to pick our seats, we bump into none other than former All-American and US Olympian Taylor Averill! How can you forget the man in the middle?! The converted setter! After a brief fanboy moment with one of my volleyball idols, we continued our search for some solid seats. Jackpot! Some lower-level seats right around the net – kind of leaning towards Ball State’s side of the court so we can make sure the Cardinals weren’t grazing the net.  

As the two teams warmed up, Aunty Cynthia and I shared stories about the Mike Wilton days, talking story about growing up in the 808, going away for college and of course UH volleyball (shout out to Yuval Katz, Steven Hunt, Patrick Gasman and Jennings Franciscovic). After a 40-minute warm up, it was game on. The UH side was nicely packed with fans stoked for to see their guys in green attempt to defend the title waving ti leaves along with Hawaiʻi flags.

Also, shout out to Gwen Nakamura & Coach Mike – the fearless leaders of the stoke inducing UH band and cheerleading team, respectively. Their respective groups aided an electric traveling replica of the Stan Sheriff Center gameday atmosphere!

Following a nail-biting 1st set that ended on a STONE COLE Hogland service ace, I was hoping for a tidy sweep given the way UH throttled past the NGU Crusaders back on Tuesday. But on Cinco de Mayo – of all days, it was only appropriate for BOTH NCAA semi-final matches to go to five sets. If you watched both games in-person, you would have treated yourself to a total of 10 sets, which would come out to $1.75 per set (since a ticket for both matches cost $17.50). Now that’s getting your money’s worth!

After dropping sets 2 & 3, the do-or-die 4th set saw the ‘Bows play inspired, purposeful volleyball to keep the dream alive. The ‘Bows sprinted to an early 4-1 lead; thanks to lengthy scoring runs and quick side outs, the slate was wiped clean and it was on to the decisive 5th set – win or go home! Again, UH dashed to an early 4-0 lead in the sprint to 15 – capped off by a pair of aces by the Big West Conference Player of the Year: Jakob Thelle. On a night where Jakob was chasing first touches most of the night, the Norwegian lefty serve was finding itself mostly in the net. After a few point exchanges with Ball State, UH found themselves at Aloha Ball with a chance to punch their ticket to Championship Saturday. Queue the Viking clap!

Unfortunately, a match-ending ace was not in the deck of cards for this five-set thriller as Spyros Chakas’ serve ended up in the net. Dimitrios Mouchlias’ tip shot kill, which just missed the outstretched hand of the Ball State backrow and icing the five-layer cake. However, Ball State’s challenge (contesting a pancake dig) was deemed unsuccessful by R2 Ray Mink, which gave Dimi his 19th, match-ending kill of the contest.

With the ‘Bows taking the 3-2 victory (28-26, 19-25, 20-25, 25-20 & 15-11), we get part four of 2022 ‘Bows vs. Beach saga. I was actually at the first of the four matches between these teams, with the first of four taking place on April 1st at the Walter Pyramid. I thought that it would make a nice April Fool’s joke to sit with Long Beach State faithful. But we all know how that turned out.

Back to the good part, the Rainbow Warrior faithful including myself punched the air in celebration as the ‘Bows will have a chance to go back-to-back as NCAA National Champions.

Finally, I’d like to wish you a FANTASTIC Aloha Friday. Gather your ʻohana Saturday afternoon, pick up your favorite local grindz (Kim Chee Meat Jun, Wow Lau Lau Plate from Young’s, Garlic Chicken from Mitsuken, Boneless Chicken from Rainbow’s – extra gravy!, St. Louis Drive In mixed plate, or Zip Pac), fire up the Sideline Hawai’i App (or ask your smart speaker to “Play ESPN Honolulu!”) and allow the voice of Warrior Ball THE Tiff Wells to guide you through all of play-by-by action, courtside from the Pauley Pavilion. First serve is set for 5:00 PM California Time (2:00 PM Hawai’i time)

Mahalo Nui Loa to Southern Turf Hawai’i and HGEA for making ESPN Honolulu’s broadcasts possible! Until Saturday, it’s A Hui Hou. ‘BOWS IN FIVE!

“That’s all I have to say about that.” – Forrest Gump