By: Tiff Wells
Calendar flipped to March and so does the level of opponent. With no disrespect to the teams UH saw in both January and February, the teams UH will see throughout this month are just on another level. And to open the week, No. 7 Pepperdine came to the island for a pair of matches and along with them, the Waves featured one of the top attackers in the entire country. Graduate student Jaylen Jasper, averaging five plus kills per set had recorded 20 or more kills in each of his previous four matches. The block of Hawai`i, which has gotten better the last few matches, knew the Pepperdine offense was going to go through Jasper. And with UH’s Cole Hogland, the reigning Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Week helping to lead UH’s block, the Bows really needed to be disciplined at the net.
Welcome back Jakob Thelle. Having been held out the previous four matches for “load management,” UH’s offense didn’t miss a beat in his absence. Libero turned setter Brett Sheward ran an effective offense and `Eleu Choy did a good job of holding the defense and serve receive together. But there’s just something different with Thelle on the floor. The best fan base in the land welcomed him back with a loud ovation as they hadn’t seen him live at home since January 20th. UH’s offense hit .632 in Set 1, winning 25-15. A Keoni Thiim 4-0 run aided the Bows. A sloppy second set where the Bows had 10 errors (six serving, four hitting) and the inability to close out a 21-20 saw UH drop a set for just the fourth time this season as Pepperdine evened the match at 1, taking the set 25-22. Tied at 21 in Set 3, a key 3-0 serving run by Kana`i Akana helped push UH to a Set 3 victory 25-22. A 15-8 lead in Set 4 proved to be the difference as the Rainbow Warriors remained unbeaten with the 25-21 victory to move to 14-0 on the season. A new program record established for Hawai`i as they won at home for a record 27th consecutive time. It also marked the 12th straight home win for UH over Pepperdine as the Bows were led by their two Greeks, Spyros Chakas and Dimitrios Mouchlias. With one of the greatest of all-time players of the program in attendance (Costas Theocharidis), Chakas recorded his second double-double (18 kills, 12 digs) of the season. An efficient .516 hitting percentage on the night for one Greek, the other didn’t disappoint. Mouchlias hit .423 (15 kills on 26 swings. Cole Hogland added six more blocks to his ledger while Chaz Galloway recorded a new career high of six blocks.
Night two against Pepperdine featured bling and a very, very long line to get into SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. With the 2022 National Championship rings handed out after the match, a season-high crowd came early for the promotional items and their chance to takes pre-match photos with the ring and trophies. A .524 hitting percentage (13-2-21) for UH in Set 1 powered the home team to a 25-19 victory. For a second consecutive match, Cole Hogland had a Kong Block on Pepperdine middle Akin Akinwumi. UH’s block also showed up early with 4.5 total team blocks. A 9-all second set turned into a 17-12 lead as UH led the match 2-0 after the 25-18 victory. Another tie, this time at 12 in Set 3 and UH turned it on yet again. A 19-14 lead was all the Bows needed as they won it 25-21 on a challenge. For a 13th consecutive match in Honolulu, Hawai`i defeated Pepperdine. The steaks continued: 24 (matches won), 28 (home wins) and 33 (regular season home wins). Four service aces by Thelle gives him now 108, tying him with Delano Thomas for fifth-place all-time. UH’s offense, which did well with Sheward running it, did even better with Thelle back. UH hit .420 on Wednesday and .405 on Friday. It marks three-straight matches for UH to hit over .400. After being quiet for the first few weeks, the block has awoken. Eight blocks on Wednesday, 11 on Friday. It marks the third time this season with double-digit blocks and an 10th-straight match with eight or more. And what a crowd for the home team, a season-high (for now) 6982 through the gates. And with Penn State, UCLA, Long Beach State, UC Irvine and then senior week with UC San Diego all coming to the island, safe to say UH will re-establish a season-high crowd at least one more time this season.
For the first time since 2020, UH welcomes back its featured tournament, The Outrigger Volleyball Invitational. UH is the two-time defending champion. And what a field it will be. The potential for four ranked teams, including the top three in the round-robin invitational. Purdue Fort Wayne (12-5, 3-4 MIVA) is UH’s opponent on Thursday. And then matches Friday against number three Penn State (14-1, 4-0 EIVA who does play on Sunday prior to coming to Honolulu) and the Saturday showdown with UCLA (17-1, 4-0 MPSF). Expect large crowds for the Invitational and also keep in mind that UH also has baseball and softball on campus as well. Hope to see you there.
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Photos: Jarin Kobashigawa