Sunday, May 8, 2022 | By Matthew Ganibi (IG: @hamburgermatty)
“WIN! WIN! WIN! WIN! Curb everything else!” – Jay Rock
I have one question for you, so promise me that you will answer this with the truth and nothing but the truth… HOW ABOUT THOSE RAINBOW WARRIORS, HAWAI’I?!
In Hollywood, movie sequels sometimes fail to meet the heightened expectations set by its predecessor. Today was the polar opposite of that. You never forget your first, but you certainly savor your second! Join me as we set sail and relive an epic Championship Saturday – May 7, 2022.
Looking back at the tournament’s history, it’s crazy to think that this year’s tournament host – UCLA actually hosted and won the first ever NCAA National Championship back in 1970. Long Beach State was ironically on the losing end in the form of a 3-set sweep at the hands of the Bruins. With today’s win, UH would become the 4th different team to repeat since UC Irvine started the trend in 2012 & 2013. That trend carried into today with Loyola Chicago (the team UH played on the night Colten Cowell unveiled the banner at The Stan) going back-to-back in 2014 & 2015. The Buckeyes of Ohio State followed with a back-to-back title run of their own in 2016 & 2017 while Long Beach claimed the 2018 & 2019 (a painful match to watch at The Pyramid).
WELCOME TO CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY!
The festivities actually got off to a rocky start as I was running late after excessively celebrating the Milwaukee Bucks close win over the Boston Celtics in Game 3 of their NBA Playoff series. As result of that, I left late and ran into traffic on the 405. After standing in line for about 15 minutes and initially standing in the wrong entrance line, I finally managed to get through the gate just in time to watch The Beach’s Simon Torwie deal a match-opening ace. YIKES!
Following the opening point by The Beach, both teams traded points during the early part of the first frame as I scrambled to find Aunty Cynthia since she had arrived well before me and managed to save me a seat on the camera-facing side lining up nicely with the net (seating for the tournament was all general admission – so it was essentially first come first serve). After walking a handful of rows down the stairs, Aunty Cynthia called out from behind and I was able to grab the seat next to her. Here we go, Bows and Beach for all the marbles!
As I started to settle into my seat, the Big West Postseason champion: UH, found their groove shaking off early jitters and eventually making a key 3-point run that gave them just enough room for comfort. Spyros Chakas put a bow on the first-set action with his 6th kill of the match immediately responding to an Alex Nikolov kill, UH with the early 1-0 advantage: 25-22.
The start of the second set gave me the impression that the match was either going four or five sets for The ‘Ship as Long Beach rushed to a 4-1 advantage and eventually made it 10-5 until Guilherme Voss’ block was the start of a key five-point run, which brought UH right back into the 2nd stanza. After knotting the game at 10, the ‘Bows didn’t allow anything further than mini two-point runs by the Beach. Every UH side out caused Aunty Cynthia, fellow UH faithful and myself to breath sighs of reliefs, especially when Long Beach’s golden boy: Alex Nikolov was behind the service line because quick side outs meant an end to his serving runs. That allowed Hawai’i to focus on just slowing down the two-headed monster of Spencer Olivier & Alex Nikolov. UH’s Greek duo of Dimitrios Mouchlias & Spyros Chakas proceeded put the second set to bed as the Bows jumped to a 2-0 lead: 25.21.
With a break in the action, Aunty Cynthia were talking about how impressed we were at UH’s ability to close – something that they struggled with when they played the Beach at the Walter Pyramid on April 1st & 2nd. Despite the stoke-inducing 2-0 lead, I suddenly became cautiously optimistic because of what transpired on Thursday. My heart could not stomach a reverse-sweep at the hands of The Beach because you never want to lose to your arch rival – yet alone in the form of a reverse sweep. The Long Beach faithful kept the faith until the end, egging on the Rainbow Warrior faithful with their “Let’s go Beach” cheers. They didn’t think that they were toast and I was still on the edge of my seat. But with the “Let’s go ‘Bows” and “Rain-Bows” chants that were led by the elite UH band and cheer squad (shout out to Gwen Nakamura & Coach Mike), I was magically re-assured. As the 38 Special song famously goes “hold on loosely, but don’t let go!”
OH MY GOODNESS – WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!
“The most important ships in life are relationships, friendships & championships.” – Matthew Ganibi, until I am told otherwise.
Set three felt just like the second set since the first few points quickly traded hands between UH and Long Beach, but a few key scoring runs were getting us to believe that holy guacamole this repeat was truly possible! Long Beach was starting to fall victim to self-inflicted mistakes and back-to-back blocks of Olivier and Nikolov made the UH faithful truly believe. To quote one of my favorite comedy movies, “so you’re telling me there’s a chance?!” When UH was the first team to score 20 in Set 3, stoke levels were starting to surge – the Natty is OH SO CLOSE. I was going to see my first UH National Title in person! Time to pinch my arm – oww!
Following what would end up being Mouchlias’ final kill of the match, the Rainbow Warrior faithful rose as one and Viking clapped in unison (chicken skin kine moment because you could feel the passion and being on the edge of glory – a great Lady Gaga song). Following Jack Walmer’s serve, the ball didn’t stay on the Long Beach side of the net and with Spyros Chakas being the elite player that he is, elevated and TERMINATED! When the R1 & R2 blew the final whistle and crossed their arms in unison, that was it.
GAME OVER! THE REPEAT IS COMPLETE!
“It’s a sweep! At the end of the rainbow, is a national championship.” – Tiff Wells
Rainbow Warrior fans – myself included, were sent into a frenzy as the players rushed the court. As I recorded Aloha Ball & Championship Point, I tried my best to keep my phone still. However, it was best to just stop recording and soak it all in! The electric celebration reminded me a bit of the glory days of Aloha Stadium when Ryan Mouton sealed the perfect 2007 season by picking off Jake Locker with three seconds left. Someone wake me up! I must be dreaming! The ‘Bows are National Champs once again. It was high fives and chee huu’s all around as there’s nothing sweeter than not only beating your arch rival, but also sweeping them for the national title.
I got a bit choked up emotionally not only because of how historical it was and from all the tension throughout the game, but because of how much I wished my parents were with me to soak it all in. I can only imagine my mom screaming at the top of her lungs after every UH point scored and stressing out after every Long Beach point. Being able to hug her and my dad after that final whistle blew would have been absolutely priceless. Well Mom and Dad, let’s see if the ‘Bows can go for a three-peat because if so, we’re going to Fairfax, VA!
After celebrating with Aunty Cynthia and screaming “oh my goodness, we’ve done it again!” We took turns taking each other’s photos with the championship celebration in the background to commemorate this historic moment and I decided to replicate the image on my Colt Brennan shirt from Barefoot League (shout out to Jenn & Jacky for that awesome shirt!). Aunty Cynthia got a great photo of me flashing the number one with my left hand and throwing a shaka with my right to give it a local twist to the legendary Jam Aquino photo of Colt Brennan celebrating the Warrior Football team winning the WAC in 2007.
Despite no championship confetti falling from the rafters in the Pauley Pavilion, I was still able to enjoy the trophy ceremony and sang “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī” with the UH Band accompanying the singing crowd & players – chicken skin, brah!
Before we officially put a bow on this, I’d like to take this opportunity to personally wish all of the mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day, especially to my wonderful mother: Mary Ganibi. Mom, even though Dad is my best friend, you are my hero – no other woman can love me as much as you do. I love you!
Mahalo Nui Loa to Southern Turf Hawai’i and HGEA for making ESPN Honolulu’s broadcasts possible! Huge Mahalo Nui Loa to my friends at ESPN Honolulu – Chanel Tsutsuse in particular for providing me with the opportunity of a lifetime and allowing me to share my National Tournament experience with each and every one of you. If you have made it all the way through the article and are still reading this, Mahalo a million to you as well! I hope that you enjoyed this UH championship run as much as I have.
Congratulations to your 2022 Big West Conference & NCAA National Championship Tournament Champions – YOUR University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors:
- Chaz Galloway
- Jack Walmer
- Logan Sharp
- Brett Sheward
- ‘Eleu Choy
- Makua Marumoto
- Cole Hogland
- Kyler Presho
- Kurt Nusterer
- Jakob Thelle
- Dimitrios Mouchlias
- Austin Buchanan
- Max Rosenfeld
- Alaka‘i Todd