‘Bows Sweep UC San Diego on Senior Night, Clinch Top Seed in Big West Tournament
BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 16, 2023
MANOA — Before they could start the Senior Night celebration, the University of Hawai’i men’s volleyball team knew they needed to take care of business.
With UC San Diego in town for the second of two matches over the weekend, the defending back-to-back national champs had a chance to win a share of another regular season conference title.
More importantly, a victory on Saturday would lock up the top seed in next week’s Big West conference tournament and keep the Rainbow Warriors out of a #2 versus #3 matchup in the semifinals, improving odds at another berth in the NCAA tournament.
‘Bows fans also seemed to understand the gravity of the evening’s upcoming events, as the Stan Sheriff Center sold out for the 13th time in program history to help celebrate six seniors who had a historic impact on Hawai’i men’s volleyball.
UC San Diego responded with a nice start in the night’s second set, sparring back-and-forth with Hawai’i in the early going before the ‘Bows surged ahead to some breathing room at the media break, 15-12.
Just as it looked like Hawai’i would run away with the second set as well, UCSD came charging to tie it at 19 following an ace and prompting a timeout from UH head coach Charlie Wade.
The two Big West teams traded points, the lead, and timeouts down the stretch of set #2, but reigning National Player of the Week recipient Dimitrios Mouchlias did Dimi-Things, powering the ‘Bows to another set victory, 25-22, with two kills in the final few points.
Hawai’i clicked on all cylinders in the third set, racing ahead as the first to 15 points just as they had in the previous two sets.
The ‘Bows attempted to funnel the last point of the night to senior Filip Humler, the 6-foot-7 opposite/outside hitter from the Czech Republic. It was a nice run of court time for Humler, who once was a starter for the program before having to work his way back from an injury that looked like it may end his career early.
Smiles were aplenty for Hawai’i, as they took the third set, 25-21, to win in straight sets and win the program’s second Big West regular season title.
The win officially made the ‘Bows Co-Big West regular season champions along with Long Beach, but the ‘Bows clinched the top seed in next week’s Big West tournament due to holding the tiebreaker over the Beach.
“It’s huge, especially this year,” Wade said of clinching the conference’s top seed for the tournament. “That [2-seed versus 3-seed] is probably an elimination game in terms of getting an at-large [bid to the NCAA tournament].”
The Big West tournament will take place next week in Irvine, CA from April 20 through April 22. With the number one seed locked up, Hawai’i will enjoy a bye into the semifinals on Friday and awaits the winner of #4 UC Santa Barbara and #5 UC San Diego.
The top-ranked Rainbow Warriors displayed once again why no place is close to the celebration for senior athletes that Hawai’i puts on, with nearly the entire arena remaining seated to recognize the six players who had just stepped into the Stan Sheriff Center for a match one final time.
“Really appreciative and incredibly humbled,” Charlie Wade said of seeing such a sizable portion of the sold-out crowd stay through the ceremonies. “The amount of support we get is unbelievable, there’s not any place like this in the world.”
Among those being honored for Hawai’i were Devon Johnson, Kana’i Akana, Dimitrios Mouchlias, Filip Humler, Cole Hogland and Jakob Thelle.
The legendary class for Hawai’i helped raise the program to unprecedented heights, winning back-to-back national championships and then returning this season to vie for another title. Since arriving in Manoa back in 2019, the crew has totaled 113 wins and lost just 12 times.
Mouchlias joined the group being honored, forgoing his final year of eligibility to turn pro following this season. The Greek native has become a fan favorite in his time in Manoa, consistently growing into one of the most dominant players in all of collegiate volleyball.
Thelle graduates after returning for an extra year, following rumors last season that the reigning Big West Player of the Year would be turning pro at season’s end. While the talent to go up to the next level was there last year, Thelle could not bring himself to leave quite yet.
“The people here, they’re the ones that brought me back,” Thelle said, crediting the fans for his return. “I didn’t want to miss another year of being in Hawai’i and living in the most unique culture in the world with the most cool people in the world, so [the ovation tonight meant] everything.”
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