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

At the Net: A Rainbow Warrior Volleyball Blog by Tiff Wells | Week 3

By: Tiff Wells

For the first time since 2019, the University of Hawai`i men’s volleyball team took their game to the state of North Carolina. Three matches in four days is tough. Throw in the long travel and then the absence of All-American setter Jakob Thelle (didn’t travel, held back for rest) is a little more daunting as well. But as we’ve heard multiple times before from Head Coach Charlie Wade, it’s not depth if you don’t use it. Well, we would get to see this depth on display for the week in The Tar Heel State.

As the two-time reigning National Champions and also carrying the number one ranking, UH knows that on every night, their opponent will give them their best efforts because that opponent wants to be the one to say they knocked off the champs and number one team in the country. With Thelle not available, insert Austin Buchanan into the starting lineup as the setter against Queens University. Making his first career start, the 6’8” setter ran an offense that did well in the first two sets (.385 in set 1, .323 in set 2) but the offense was noticeably running at a little slower of a tempo than when Thelle is on the floor. The Bows never trailed in Set 1 and were the benefit of seven aces by Queens. Down 18-19 in Set 2, UH closed on a 7-1 run. We had heard prior to the match from Head Coach Charlie Wade that he wanted to run multiple lineups for the week and one of those lineups was to include letting Brett Sheward set and have `Eleu Choy be the libero. With UH up 2-0 (25-20, 25-21) in the match, those changes did occur. Not only was Sheward given the keys to run the offense, Choy donned the libero jersey. Kana`i Akana was placed into an outside hitter position and Alaka`i Todd became the opposite. A 7-0 Todd run from the service line keyed UH to the 25-17 set 3 win and another 3-0 match win. UH did just enough to get the win in straight sets, but again we’re outblocked (9 to 6.5) and had no answer for Daniel Leitao on the right side (14-2-33, .364). Two streaks continued for the Bows after this match: seven plus service aces (7 vs Queens) and hitting over .300 (hit .301 against Queens). The all-around game for Spyros Chakas also was evident as he recorded his first double-double (16 kills, 10 digs) of the season.

Heading west by about a half hour, UH faced Belmont Abbey for the first time in program history. It was UH’s first trip and first meeting facing the Crusaders. A packed Wheeler Center that had a standing room capacity crowd, the number one team in the land would once again be the main attraction for its opponent. We knew Thelle was absent. What we didn’t know until maybe an hour before first serve was UH would be without the services of leading attacker Spyros Chakas (illness). Making his first career start, Keoni Thiim took the place of Chakas in the lineup. Buoyed by 13 errors (6 hitting, 7 serving) from Belmont Abbey, UH took Set 1 25-18. Hitting .450 in Set 2, UH took the 2-0 match lead with a 25-18 victory. For those that like offense, Set 3 wasn’t for you. UH hit just .111, Belmont Abbey hit .100. The Crusaders led 20-17 and then Austin Buchanan went to the service line with UH down 18-20. Behind Buchanan’s serve, UH went on a 6-0 run. BAC held off one match point, but Alaka`i Todd’s third kill gave UH the 25-21 victory and another 3-0 win. UH did hit a season low (.297), but would out-block its opponent for the first time this season (8.5 to 4). Libero Brett Sheward also shined in the backrow again as he led all players with 10 digs.

After a day off for travel, UH wrapped up its three-match in four-day North Carolina tour with a match against winless Barton College. Another match, another lineup for the Bows as Brett Sheward started at setter for the first time since March of 2020, `Eleu Choy made his first career start at libero, Kurt Nusterer (MB) started for the first time in his career, Cole Ottmar (OH) made his UH debut and Alaka`i Todd started at Opposite. Also making his season debut was Filip Humler. Giving rest to Chaz Galloway, Guilherme Voss and Dimitrios Mouchlias, there was no drop off in offensive production or energy throughout the match against a team that hadn’t won a match since 2021. The culture of this program was on display as the usual starters were engaged in the match from the get-go as they cheered on from the bench for the guys that push them so hard in practice. A season-high in blocks (9.0), a season-low in hitting errors (9 in 70 attempts) and an efficient offense (39 kills on 70 swings, hitting .429) aided UH to victory in straight sets (25-11, 25-19, 25-14). Outside of an 11-11 tie in Set 2, UH never trailed or saw another tie. 

A 24th-straight road win versus unranked teams, extending its NCAA-best win streak to 16, what was most important for UH in its trip to North Carolina was doing its job in continuing the #GrowTheGame movement. Knowing it would be the biggest draw of any opponent for these three schools, UH saw one school (Queens University) actually charge admission for the match, a second school (Belmont Abbey College) draw a program-record crowd (1,154) in a standing-room only environment and a third (Barton College) which would have shirts made by the company owned by the wife (Lisa) of a former Rainbow Warrior Volleyball player (Tom Deppe, ’88-‘89) whose son (JT) is the Head Coach for the Bulldogs.

#WarriorBall23 returned to the island on Sunday afternoon and will enjoy the week off from match play. It’s also a much needed week off to help Thelle and Chakas recover and get healthy for an important non-conference series at Stanford next week. Also on Monday, UH learned that Redshirt Freshman Middle Blocker Kurt Nusterer was named Big West Conference Freshman of the Week, presented by Outrigger Resorts. Playing in five sets over two matches last week, Nusterer averaged 3.00 points/2.20 kills and .80 blocks per set while hitting .714 (11-1-14). 

Currently 6th in the rankings, Stanford (6-1) has two matches this week before hosting the Bows for a pair. Friday’s (2/10) match is at 7:00 p.m. PT in Maples Pavilion, while Saturday’s (2/11) match is at 6:00 p.m. PT in Burnham Pavilion. Men’s Volleyball matches at Stanford are free to the public and with Saturday’s match at Burnham that has a capacity of under 2,000 (seating capacity of 1436, building capacity of 1950) , I advise you to get there early to ensure you find a seat.

Also on Monday, we learned of the passing of Jim Leahey. Affectionately known as Pops, he was the voice for many of the greatest moments of UH Athletics for over four plus decades. 

#GoBows #WarriorBall23 #HawaiiMVB #NCAAMVB