(Left to right) Hawai’i men’s volleyball seniors Kevin Kauling, Guilherme Voss, Alaka’i Todd, Spyros Chakas, Chaz Galloway and Austin Buchanan pose after the Senior Night ceremony for photos. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i survives 5-set thriller with UC Santa Barbara on Senior Night 

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 30, 2024

HONOLULU – Nobody does it like Hawai’i. 

The 5th-ranked University of Hawai’i men’s volleyball team survived a five-set thriller against 20th-ranked UC Santa Barbara (7-16, 0-7 Big West) on Saturday night, turning in a heart-pounding Senior Night win that had just a bit of everything for nearly 9,000 fans in attendance, (25-21, 26-24, 23-25, 21-25, 15-12). 

Despite UCSB southpaw Geste Bianchi’s match-best 32 kills, the ‘Bows were able to hold off a feisty Gauchos unit for the 18th straight win against the Big West foe. 

Hawai’i French freshman phenom Louis Sakanoko continued his progression with a team-leading 15 kills while putting his fingerprints all over the defense with seven digs and six total blocks in the third Big West win of the season for the ‘Bows. UH posted a season-best 18.5 blocks as a unit, led by middle blocker Kurt Nusterer’s career-best 10 turnaways.

The victory pushed Charlie Wade’s squad to .500 in conference play for the first time this season. After dropping three of their first four Big West matches, Hawai’i was able to clinch the program’s third straight season of 20 wins or more with the victory against the Gauchos.  

The injured Spyros Chakas made his highly anticipated return inside Stan Sheriff Center after suffering a non-contact leg injury in the championship match of the 2024 Outrigger Volleyball Invitational, receiving an ear-splitting cheer from the crowd on hand as he was announced as a “starter” as the team’s 2nd libero. 

With emotions running high, the Rainbow Warriors (20-4, 3-3 Big West) started slowly, allowing UCSB to take the opening two points before a service error put Hawai’i on the board for the first time. UH settled in a little to take a 4-3 lead behind Alaka’i Todd’s first kill of Saturday evening, but four of the next five balls resulted in points for the Gauchos for a multi-score lead, 7-5. 

Hawai’i continued to sleepwalk through a sloppy first portion of the opening set, trailing 15-12 at first media timeout as the offense had a negative hitting percentage and UCSB outside Geste Bianchi ran wild to lift the ‘Chos. 

The break in the action played to Hawai’i’s advantage as the Rainbow Warriors came out of the timeout and rattled off four straight points to take lead,16-15, and force UCSB timeout. 

The ‘Bows continued mounting momentum as Galloway went to his own altitude for a kill after the break for UH’s first multi-point lead of the night. The Gauchos worked to tie it again at 19 before a Patrick Kane attacking error off the left pin gave Hawai’i the needed advantage once again. With three of the next four points going to the Rainbow Warriors, UC Santa Barbara called for timeout to try and stave off a 1st set loss for the second night in a row. 

The attempt proved futile as Voss crushed his first kill of the night to set up a set point chance for the ‘Bows and a Kurt Nusterer-Chaz Galloway combined block loudly ended the opening frame in favor of the home team, 25-21. 

Galloway and Voss continued the fun for Hawai’i with two of the first three points in the 2nd set, but UCSB would again tighten the contest with a constant stream of traded points to a 13-13 deadlock before snagging the next two points to push into the media timeout leading the hosts, 15-13. 

After dropping behind, Hawai’i fought back once again following the stoppage to tie things before USCB pushed close to evening the match at a set each, 24-22. Led by Kurt Nusterer at the service line, UH flipped the script with a 4-0 run to take a two-sets-to-none lead over the Gauchos with a 26-24 win. 

Hawai’i had another sloppy start to the night’s third stanza, falling behind 4-1 off the rip. Steadying back to down just a pair, the Rainbow Warriors tied the set at 13 with back-to-back kills between Sakanoko and Todd from the left and right sides, respectively. USCB sent the match to the frame’s media timeout with the next two points behind the powerful left arm of Bianchi, 15-13. The Gauchos continued their hot third set after the break, forcing two timeouts from Hawai’i while taking a commanding five-point lead, 22-17. 

While it looked like the ‘Bows might repeat the 2nd set’s script with a late comeback try, USCB successfully pushed the match to a 4th round after getting swept Friday night as a Louis Sakanoko serve sailed long to clinch a 25-23 win for the ‘Chos. 

The momentum continued to flow for the foes from Santa Barbara, using a 10-1 run in the 4th set to take control of the frame and head into another media timeout leading, 15-12. This time, the stoppage in action did not aid the ‘Bows as UCSB rolled to a 25-21 win to send the match to a critical 5th set. 

Much like their other matches this season that have gone the distance, Hawai’i tabbed Keoni Thiim as the opener to serve. The local boy and service specialist played a good ball in, but USCB would take the first point of the final frame behind Bianchi’s 29th kill of the evening. 

Sakanoko grabbed the point right back with his 13th putdown of the night and tied the set at two with #14 two rallies later. The flying Frenchman collected his 15th and final kill a few moments following to give Hawai’i the lead and sizzled an ace next for the first multi-point lead of the do-or-die 5th set.  

Then, it was Thiim Time. 

UH’s fiery flyer let the emotions fly as he powered Hawai’i to a 9-5 lead with a pair of scorchers set up by Tread Rosenthal, picking up a yellow card in the process. Rosenthal extended the ‘Bows into double-digits, 10-7, with a dunk on two before UCSB drew within one to force Wade into a timeout. 

Kurt Nusterer helped spark the electricity back into SimpliFi Arena with a massive triple block with Sakanoko and Rosenthal to make it a two-point Rainbow Warrior lead again. Traded service errors maintained the gap for Hawai’i, but a curious ruling on an Alaka’i Todd attack called an error awarded a point to the Gauchos to make it 12-11, Hawai’i. 

Another service error gave a multi-point lead to the ‘Bows and Thiim smashed his third kill of the crucial 5th set to deliver Hawai’i to the doorstep of a Senior Night victory. A red card given to Charlie Wade by the tower official gave a point and the serve to UCSB, providing one last gasp for the Gauchos in efforts for that elusive Big West win. 

Once again, it was Keoni Thiim standing in the way as he crushed his fourth kill on eight total swings to close the door on the ‘Chos, 15-13. 

Seniors Alaka’i Todd and Guilherme Voss each added 12 kills in their final regular season home game inside the Stan Sheriff Center with Todd grabbing his first career double-double by getting down and dirty with a team-high 10 digs. 

Hawai’i totaled 50 digs on the night as a unit with three different players reaching 10 digs as Rosenthal and ‘Eleu Choy put in an inspired effort for the Hawai’i faithful by getting into double-figures along with Todd.  

With business taken care of, the party could begin. 

A hoarse-voiced Charlie Wade took to the PA microphone to personally thank the thousands of fans still in attendance for sticking with the team and supporting them through the most adversity they have faced in years. In all, the special senior class could not have been so special without the fans. 

It was time for the fans to show their aloha one final time in the regular season for their volleyball heroes, giving frenzied cheers and extended standing ovations to a special six seniors that have helped deliver some of the greatest memories in the program’s storied history. 

Opening with Austin Buchanan, who has trooped his way through injuries and adversities, the fans showed how special it is to be a senior for any Hawai’i program. It continued showing to the ‘Bows newest senior, Kevin Kauling, who had transferred to the program from Lewis after multiple AVCA All-America selections to be a part of the Rainbow Warrior ‘ohana. 

The volume reached another level when it was Punahou alum and Kailua native Alaka’i Todd’s turn to take centerstage as Hawai’i showed their incredible love to their own product that proved to be the definition of working hard paying off. An all-time program great in middle blocker Guilherme Voss came next, a force in the middle that still ranks in the top 10 of blocks per set for three years running that fans could recognize as a steady advantage on national champion teams.  

Chaz “Air” Galloway, the high-flying AVCA All-American outside hitter from San Diego, California, and five-year program veteran, certainly was shown the “Aloha Spirit” in his final regular season appearance at the Stan and “felt the love” following the ceremony when interacting with supporters that stayed deep into the evening.  

Finally, the place erupted for Spyros Chakas one more time as the Greek captain crutched his way around the loop to his parents who flew in from Greece for the night, stacked with lei. The all-time program great will leave the program (along with his peers) as a two-time national champion, appearing in three consecutive NCAA title matches and an incredible 108-14 record since the beginning of the 2020 season. 

Hawai’i men’s volleyball’s senior class of 2024 left imprints all over the hearts of UH fans and wrote in ink in multiple record books. With a positive end to the home slate of the regular season, the ‘Bows will now turn their attention to a pair of important road trips against UC Irvine and UC San Diego before the Big West Championships bring them back to Mānoa.