Hawai’i wins 11th consecutive season-opener with sweep over #10 Loyola-Chicago

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 3, 2024

HONOLULU — How sweep it is. 

After falling in the national title match to UCLA last season and seeing the graduation of all-time program great and AVCA national player of the year Jakob Thelle — among multiple other key graduations — and the loss of AVCA 1st-team All-American outside hitter Dimitrios Mouchlias to the professional ranks, many may have looked to 2024 for a step back from ‘Bows head coach Charlie Wade’s squad.  

To be fair, they needed to reload with younger, less experienced faces joining a trio of returning starters in middle blocker Guilherme Voss, outside hitter Chaz Galloway and outside hitter/opposite Spyros Chakas. 

Just don’t tell Hawai’i that they need to take a year to reload and incorporate a new group. Expectations entering Wednesday were still sky-high from within. 

When it was time for rubber to hit the road, Hawai’i was ready to go.  

The #3 Hawai’i men’s volleyball team dispatched #10 Loyola-Chicago in straight sets Wednesday night, taking the frames in succession — 25-23, 25-19 and 25-20. 

UH’s floor-captain in Chakas got the new year of ‘Bows volleyball started with a scorcher of a kill set up by 17-year-old setter Tread Rosenthal for the match’s first point. Wade has long been excited to get the Team USA U19 member to Mānoa and the six-foot-eight top recruit might’ve been just as hyped to join the Mānoa maniacs of volleyball — joining the program a year earlier than initially expected to play alongside players like Galloway and Chakas. 

He joins the program at a perfect time as well for a changing of the guard at the setter position, replacing the aforementioned Thelle. While it wasn’t a perfect night one, his calm demeanor from the first serve gained praise from his head coach. 

“He’s going to be very good, and he does a lot of really good stuff out there [already],” Wade said of his prized recruit. “The first time I ever saw him play [in high school] … I’m like ‘That guy [will play] in three Olympics for [Team USA]’ — like that is a unique talent.” 

Hawai’i pushed it to a 5-3 lead early with local boy and Punahou alum Alaka’i Todd’s first kill of the season. Tenth-ranked Loyola-Chicago roared back to tie it at seven with an ace from Nicodemus Meyer and Parker Van Buren gave the Ramblers their first lead of the evening on the rally following, 8-7. 

The visiting Ramblers entered the midway media timeout as the first team to 15 after an attack error by Todd went into the net, but Hawai’i responded to tie the game at 16 with a Chaz Galloway ace that nicked the top of the net and rolled to the hardwood. The two squads traded points to a 21-all tie before the ‘Bows took a 22-21 lead on net violation and forced Loyola-Chicago to call timeout.  

A quick second Ramblers timeout of the premier set was called for after Hawai’i took its first multi-point lead since being up 12-10 midway through the set. An effort to extend the frame into extra points for Loyola-Chicago ended up finishing short as the defending Big West champions took the evening’s first set, 25-23, on a Ramblers’ service error. 

The night’s second set opened with the Ramblers scoring the first point before the ‘Bows would answer back with the next two. Hawai’i would grab control of the frame quickly, putting together a run on the vertical leap of Chakas and Galloway and the hustle of Todd and libero ‘Eleu Choy for an 8-4 lead. The ‘Bows continued to keep Loyola-Chicago at arms’ length as the set moved to middle of the action, 15-10.  

The Rainbow Warriors only saw the lead grow after media timeout, stringing together three straight points to make it an eight-point lead and force a Ramblers’ timeout. Loyola-Chicago fought back following the stoppage, slicing the deficit to four a few times before finally succumbing to UH in the set after a net violation was called on the ‘Bows but a challenge got the call overturned — giving a 25-19 win and 2-0 set lead to the third-ranked team in the nation. 

Loyola-Chicago made it seem as though set three would be the start of a momentum shift after an early 5-5 tie turned into a 9-5 Ramblers’ lead, thanks to a 4-0 run from the visitors. The scoring burst forced a timeout from UH’s Wade, but the pause didn’t seem to stop the Ramblers from rolling. The strong third frame continued all the way through to the media timeout for Loyola-Chicago, sitting pretty with a 15-7 lead in hand.  

That’s when Hawai’i woke back up. 

Following the stoppage, the battle-tested ‘Bows responded with a 3-0 run behind another mean Chakas kill and a beautiful service ace from specialist Keoni Thiim to make it 15-10 and force a Ramblers’ timeout. Loyola-Chicago stopped the bleeding momentarily with two points before the freshman phenom Rosenthal helped sponsor an avalanche of Hawai’i points to make it just a two-point deficit for the ‘Bows, 17-15, and force another timeout from Loyola-Chicago second-year head coach John Hawks. 

It didn’t matter. 

UH would continue the offensive onslaught, taking the lead, 18-17, with another quick three-point spurt after the Loyola timeout. Hawai’i’s Wade made it a two-for-two night on challenges, getting the officials to reverse a call that originally had a UH block going out overturned to make it a two-point advantage for the ‘Bows.  

Much like last season, Hawai’i turned up the heat when it was winning time with different faces than the previous year’s squad. It was the electric Thiim with a pair of high-flying kills to start to push Hawai’i over the top, giving the ‘Bows a 22-19 lead before UH closed the match out allowing just one more point to the Ramblers. 

Hawai’i hit .256 on the night but had a .932 service percentage, totaling just five service errors all evening. 

“We served well,” UH’s Wade said in his postgame press conference. “We served in-bounds at … 93 percent. When we serve in-bounds at 90 percent or higher as a team, we win 100 percent of the time. There’s never been a match that we have served like this and not won.” 

Farrington alum and new fan-favorite ‘Eleu Choy made his sixth career start, flying all over the court to post a match-high 15 digs — seven of which came in the night’s opening set. Choy’s impact and joy was infectious as the match went on as the libero set a new career-best mark in digs. 

“Stoked for ‘Eleu,” Wade said postgame of the OIA alum taking over for AVCA All-America honorable mention Brett Sheward. “He ended up with 15 digs in three sets? You get around three, you’ll lead the country in digs per set.” 

(For those who don’t like math — Choy finished with an average of five digs per set in the season opener.) 

Chakas finished the night with 16 kills, his 37th career match finishing with double-digit kills, while getting his hands dirty at the net with a trio of blocks. Tread Rosenthal completed his collegiate debut with 32 assists across three sets, playing nearly every rally throughout the night after reserve setter Kevin Kauling injured his ankle in pre-game warmups. The true freshman also did not commit a service error throughout 21 attempts during the evening and chipped in a pair of aces as a key component of the ‘Bows third set comeback. 

Hawai’i and #10 Loyola-Chicago will play again on Friday, January 6 with first serve scheduled for 7 p.m. HT as the Rainbow Warriors look for their seventh straight match win over the Ramblers.