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At The Net: A Rainbow Warrior Volleyball Blog by Tiff Wells | Week 8

By: Tiff Wells

First two months of #WarriorBall23 and they passed every single test. 15 matches played, 15 matches won. Dropping four sets along the way. For the first time this season, on the schedule were three consecutive days of matches. The level of opponent would get more difficult as the tournament went on. And what a tournament field it featured…the top three teams in the AVCA Coaches Poll and the fourth in the ‘others receiving votes’ category. For the first time since 2020, the Outrigger Volleyball Invitational, the nation’s premiere non-conference tournament was back. 

When we talked to Head Coach Charlie Wade earlier in the week, he mentioned that the opening opponent, Purdue Fort Wayne, was a team you couldn’t sleep on. Just because it’s not a name team, not a ranked team, they are a team you couldn’t take lightly. A physical team, the Mastodons made their first trip to the island since 2000. A late scratch to UH’s lineup was middle blocker Cole Hogland. Out for the match with a non-Covid related illness, Kurt Nusterer made his third start of the season. Down 22-23 in Set 1, UH rallied to win 27-25. The high-octane offense of Hawai`i hit .538 (17-3-26). A stern test to open the Invitational laid way to convincing victories in Sets 2 (25-13) and 3 (25-20) as UH began the Invitational 1-0. For a fourth straight match and ninth time this season, the Rainbow Warriors hit over .400 (42-8-78, .436). And now…the first big test of the season.

Third-ranked Penn State came into this season with a chip on their shoulder after being the team left out of the 2022 Men’s Volleyball National Championship. After falling in five sets to UCLA on night one of the Invitational, Penn State looked for a major bullet point to their resume. Trailing for a majority of the set, UH took their first lead at 20-19. Holding on for a 25-21 victory, UH took the match lead 1-0. 11 service errors aided to the Bows’ victory. But the belief for Penn State with their serving (just like UCLA) is our constant pressure will make your offense be out-of-system and force your pin hitters to beat you from off the net. At 22-all in Set 2, the Nittany Lions scored three of the final four points to win 25-23. For the first time really this season, UH faced a team that just went after it from the service line. The normally solid serve receive of Brett Sheward, Spyros Chakas and Chaz Galloway broke down and Jakob Thelle was racing all over the court to just to put up a hittable ball for his hitters to try and keep UH’s offense in system. A 20-11 lead was too much lead for UH to overcome as the Bows dropped the set 25-21. Facing adversity for the first time this season and trailing the match 2 sets to 1, how would UH respond. After missing night one with illness, Hogland gave it a go and played the first two plus sets. With Nusterer back in for Hogland and all of the streaks hanging in the balance for UH, Set 4 saw a tie at 17. Back-and-forth before Penn State got the two-point advantage. UH sided out but couldn’t score on their serve the rest of the way as the Nittany Lions became the first team since UC San Diego in 2021 to beat Hawai`i in Honolulu. Program-tying record 25-match win streak gone. 29-straight home win streak gone. 34-straight regular season home win streak gone. The Bows hit for a season-low .250 (46-20-104) and struggled in their serve receive against the tough serving of Penn State. Now the big question…how would Hawai`i respond after losing a match. UH would also welcome back a long-time rival…UCLA. For the first time since 2018, the Bruins were on the schedule. Hawai`i may not have a true rivalry with one team. But when UH fans see a BYU on the schedule…or a UCLA…fans show up, whatever the record is. Throw in these teams being one and two in the nation, tickets became very scarce.

For a 12th time in program history and the first since March of 2020, a ticketed-issued sellout for a Men’s Volleyball match. An early 7-4 lead turned into a deficit as UH saw the Bruins get out to a 23-20 advantage. But they couldn’t close. UH scored four-straight to get to set point. The Bows needed four more opportunities before closing it 29-27. Dimitrios Mouchlias recorded nine kills in the set. Bruins took the lead 15-10 in Set 2 before UH mounted a comeback to get to within two at 22-20. UCLA scored three of the final four points to win 25-21. A 7-0 Jakob Thelle serving run gave UH the cushion in Set 3. Although the set was tied at 20, UH found a way to win 25-22 and take the 2-1 match lead. Set 4 featured UCLA leading for nearly the entire frame and had two set point opportunities, but couldn’t convert. UH took their first lead at 26-25 and then the walk-off block by Thelle and Nusterer gave UH the 28-26 set win and the match victory. UCLA also had 25 service errors, a few at crucial times late in the fourth set as well. In 12 sets at the Outrigger, the Bruins had 65 Service Errors. 

Penn State, Hawai`i and UCLA all finished 2-1 in the Invitational. Based off the tiebreaker scenario of sets won, the Nittany Lions were named the champions. UH took second and the Bruins finished third. Named to the All-Tournament Team: Michal Kowal and Ryan Merk (Penn State), Merrick McHenry and Ido David (UCLA), and Spyros Chakas and Jakob Thelle (Hawai`i). A congratulations to Dimitrios Mouchlias (Hawai`i) on being named as the Invitational’s Most Outstanding Player. Over 20,000 tickets (21,553) issued for the three days and 18,038 came through the gates to watch a lot of high-level volleyball.

Bows finish the non-conference at 17-1 and now begin conference play at home. Wrapping up the 11-match homestand, UH faces the defending Big West Conference regular season champions, Long Beach State. The fourth-ranked Beach (11-2, 2-0) have won five straight matches. Gone is the National Player of the Year (Alex Nikolov), but everyone else returns from last year’s National Runners-up team. Also, don’t forget about Call the Coach coming this Tuesday, 6:30pm at Ruby Tuesday Hawaii in the Moanalua Shopping Center. Hope to see you down there and don’t forget to call in with questions, or they can be texted as well. Comment your questions in the chats however you watch the steam as well (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube). See you at the arena this week!

#GoBows #WarriorBall23 #HawaiiMVB #NCAAMVB

Photos: Jarin Kobashigawa