By: Tiff Wells
Number one team in the nation. Number one team in the conference standings. For a pair of matches on the island. Bound to be a great series with a lot on the line and with this being the first of the final four matches at home for the season, it’s beginning to hit those six Rainbow Warriors that this is their final homestand wearing the green and white.
It’s one thing to see a server on tape and try to gameplan for it. It’s another thing to see it up close and in person. Talking of UC Irvine’s dynamic server Hilir Henno, he came in as the NCAA leader in service aces. The crafty lefty server has been on a tear all year long and UH understood a key to winning the match was to limit the number of service turns per set by Henno. A 6-0 run by Keoni Thiim midway through the opening set gave UH the cushion it needed as it cruised to a 25-16 win. A 9-all set 2 turned into a 20-11 UCI advantage as the Anteaters ran away with the set 25-17 to tie the match at 1. Set 3 leads of 19-15 and 23-21 was all UH needed as they sided out to win 25-23 and lead the match 2-1. In Set 4, UH got out to a 13-8 lead and held on for the 25-22 win and a 3-1 victory. Coupled with Long Beach State winning earlier in the day, there were three teams tied atop the conference standings at 6-1…Hawai`i, Long Beach State and UC Irvine. After going career (31 kills) on UC Irvine in night two of last year’s regular season match, Dimitrios Mouchlias followed it up with both a season-high (23 kills) and a career-high (6 blocks) performance. Even with four UCI hitters with 10 or more kills and the Anteaters hitting .396, UH was that much better. For a third-straight match and 13th time this season, Hawai`i hit over .400 (60-9-113, .451). That .451 hitting percentage was the highest allowed by UCI all season long. The usually sound Hawai`i serve receive did give up six service aces (three by Henno) and despite not being in-system for the majority of the match, Jakob Thelle still was able to put up hittable balls to his pin hitters who converted them into points. Also helping was the 10 total team blocks for UH, their seventh match this season with double-digit blocks.
How would UCI respond after losing for the first time since March 5th? Usually the team that loses on the first night comes out with more vengeance on night two. That was the case here on Magnum P.I. night as the Anteaters raced out to an early 8-3 lead, thanks in large part to two more service aces by Henno. Not to worry, the Bows have been down early in a set before. UH came back to take their first lead at 14-13. Down 23-21 and then facing a set point, Mouchlias scored on a cross-court kill to tie the set and send it to extra time. A double-block from Cole Hogland and Thelle gave UH a set point of their own, which they converted on their first opportunity by an off-speed kill from Spyros Chakas to win 26-24. UC Irvine really seemed to have control of the set and the way UH came from behind at the end, it felt they stole the set…and the momentum. Up 11-7 and then 18-17, the Bows closed on a 7-3 run to win 25-20 and lead 2-0. In Set 3, the lead never changed. Sure there were a few ties here and there, but UH never lost control of the set. Up 7-4 and then 15-19, UH handed UCI their first 3-0 loss of the season with the 25-19 set win. Coupled with Long Beach’s win over CSUN earlier in the day, both UH and LBSU are tied atop the Big West Standings at 7-1. In the span of 48 hours, UC Irvine went from first to third. And it just gets even more difficult for the Anteaters as they play a home and home with Long Beach.
UH controlled the series with UC Irvine. Out-blocking the Anteaters 16 to 6.5 in the series, the Bows hit over .400 in both matches (.451 on night 1, .424 on night 2). Undersized middle Cole Hogland went errorless for the series (14-0-19). Chakas combined for 23 kills in the series, while Chaz Galloway chipped in 18 kills. But the series belonged to Dimitrios Mouchlias. After his season-high 23 kills on night 1, night 2 featured 12 more kills and 3 service aces.
The top-ranked team should remain number one when the Coaches Poll comes out on Monday and the RPI should remain in the top 5. When the weekly Big West Conference awards come out on Monday, UH should be receiving at least one of those awards. Also, this week begins Senior Week for Hawai`i. Hogland said it best during our postmatch interview that a career goes by fast. Come in as freshman, get told by the seniors that before you know it, your career will fly right on by and your senior week will be here. And it is here…for Hogland. Along with five others: Thelle, Filip Humler, Kana`i Akana, Mouchlias and Devon Johnson. So much is on the line for Hawai`i this week: a conference regular season title, the one-seed in the conference tournament. And for the underclassmen: do whatever it takes to send the seniors out with the win. It’s your final chance to see #WarriorBall23 at home this weekend with matches Friday and Saturday. Unranked UC San Diego (8-14, 2-6) comes to the island as the senior week opponent for Hawai`i and would like nothing more than to spoil the fun that is senior week. The Tritons offense runs through Ryan Ka as he’s had multiple matches of 20+ kills. It should be another busy weekend on campus as UH Baseball is also at home, so plan accordingly. Hope to see you there for the final #WarriorBall23 home matches of the season.
#GoBows #WarriorBall23 #HawaiiMVB #NCAAMVB