Serving woes dash Hawai’i’s Big West dreams in semifinal loss to UC Irvine

Serving woes dash Hawai’i’s Big West dreams in semifinal loss to UC Irvine

Hawai’i men’s volleyball’s run through the 2024 OUTRIGGER Big West Championship tournament presented by the Hawaiian Islands came to an end Friday night as the ‘Bows fell in the semifinals in three sets to #2 seed UC Irvine. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Serving woes dash Hawai’i’s Big West dreams in semifinal loss to UC Irvine

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APRIL 19, 2024

HONOLULU – There will be a new champion in the Big West. 

The 3rd-seeded Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (23-7) saw hopes of a third consecutive conference tournament title go up in flames Friday night, falling victim to 19 service errors in an uber-competitive three-set semifinal loss to the 2nd-seeded UC Irvine Anteaters, 26-24, 36-34, 25-15, in the 2024 OUTRIGGER Big West Men’s Volleyball Championship tournament.  

The victory served as a dose of payback for the Anteaters (19-9), who hosted the 2023 Big West Championship and eventually fell to the then-top seeded Rainbow Warriors in four sets in the title match. 

It looked like it would be all Hawai’i early as the ‘Bows raced out of the gates to a 7-1 lead behind a sizzling run at the service line by redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kurt Nusterer that included a pair of aces, but UC Irvine responded with six of the next seven points to get right back into the set while prompting a UH timeout. 

The break in the action helped Hawai’i get back to scoring, trading points to maintain a one-point lead in the opening frame before a 3-1 scoring run gave UH a three-point advantage at the set’s midway point, 15-12. 

After UCI’s Hilir Henno tied the match at 17, Hawai’i went back in front by two with the help of a service error from the Anteaters and a loud block from Nusterer at the net. Again, UC Irvine fought back to tie the set’s opening frame with the next two points before UH gained the advantage back with a Keoni Thiim high-flying attack to make it 22-21. 

UC Irvine tallied three of the next four points to push the ‘Bows to the brink in the 1st set before being sent into extra points by another Thiim attack that found a piece of court. The Anteaters wasted little time finishing out the frame after Connor Campbell blocked an attack from Nusterer to give a 25-24 advantage to UCI and a triple-block at the net for the 2nd-seeded ‘Eaters delivered the night’s first stanza in the pocket of Irvine.

The night’s 2nd set opened in a bit of a flipped script from the premiere frame as the Anteaters jumped out to a 5-2 lead before Hawai’i stabilized to pull back within a point. Kurt Nusterer dunked a free ball off a mishandled Kai Taylor serve to continue the Rainbow Warriors’ momentum, tying the set at 13 before combining with Chaz Galloway for a block at the net that gave Hawai’i its first lead of the encore stanza, 14-13, and force a timeout from UCI.  

Following the timeout, an ace from All-Freshman team selection Louis Sakanoko gave the ‘Bows a multi-point cushion before he handed the point right back on a service error. Old friend Brett Sheward dropped in an ace of his own to tie it at 17-all right afterwards for the ‘Eaters, trying to deliver UCI to a two-set advantage. 

Back-to-back errors from UCI gave a two-point lead back to Hawai’i and Nusterer delivered the ’Bows to the doorstep of knotting the match at a set apiece with his fifth kill of the evening, but the Anteaters still would not relent as they rattled off four straight points to set up a set point of their own, 25-24. 

Still, neither side flinched an inch as Thiim smashed a kill off a UCI block to send the second set to extra points. The two sides combined for an additional 20 points as Hawai’i failed to take advantage of nine set point opportunities, finally seeing the frame end on Henno’s 20th kill of the night that ate up a pair of Rainbow Warriors. The kill delivered a 2-0 set lead for the Anteaters in a marathon that ended with a Big West Championships-record 70 total combined points in a 36-34 victory for UCI. 

The never-ending frame proved tiresome to Hawai’i’s morale as the ‘Bows saw a pair of sets go to the opponent after missed opportunities, creating an uneasy feeling to the 6,251 fans cheering on their Rainbow Warriors. 

Hawai’i split the opening 14 points of the 3rd set with UC Irvine to a 7-7 draw before Rainbow Warrior errors compounded with Henno hysteria at the net helped UCI pull away from UH with a comfortable four-point advantage at the media timeout. 

The efficiency from UCI continued after the break as the Anteaters swiftly outscored the ‘Bows with a 10-4 run over the final 14 services, capped off by an ace from 2023 Big West Freshman of the Year Maxim Grigoriev to take the last set, 25-15, and snap a seven-match losing streak in Hawai’i against the Rainbow Warriors. 

Hawai’i head coach Charlie Wade made a strong case for UCI’s Henno to be the frontrunner for the 2024 AVCA National Player of the Year honor following the match after the Frenchman buried a match-best 24 kills across three sets, not committing a service error in 17 attempts from behind the line to buoy the Anteaters into the Big West Championships’ title match for the second straight season. 

“Watching Henno out there tonight, National Player of the Year candidate,” Wade gushed. “If [Henno] isn’t the leader [for AVCA National Player of the Year], I don’t know who is … I think you saw the National Player of the Year out there tonight.” 

It was an up-and-down night for Hawai’i’s Louis Sakanoko, who led the ‘Bows with 12 kills on 29 swings but committed a match-high 12 errors throughout the night. The freshman from France added five digs and an ace while recording a team-best 13 points in three stanzas. The ‘Bows got a boost from the middles throughout the loss as Nusterer and Guilherme Voss combined for 17 kills on 28 combined swings, adding four blocks as well. 

In all, it was a competitive match for Hawai’i that saw the ‘Bows hitting above .400 through two sets and still trail by two frames despite that performance. 

The victory over the host Hawai’i is the first ever postseason win for UCI over their Big West rivals, falling in three previous meetings in the conference tournament. Hawai’i’s season likely will end with the loss, barring a surprise at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Both head coaches from the night’s 2nd semifinal match seemed to have differing opinions on the ‘Bows credentials for the national tournament. 

“The Big West has some really good volleyball teams. For me, that Hawai’i team is a tournament-worthy team for the NCAA [and] they’re doing some really nice stuff,” UC Irvine head coach David Kniffin said in his postgame availability. “For us to come out and win, obviously in this environment, is a big deal and we’re grateful for the opportunity to do that.” 

While Hawai’i has spent the majority of the season sitting inside the national ranking’s top-5, some critical losses against CSUN and UC San Diego hurt the Rainbow Warriors’ chances at receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, an event that only invites eight teams in total with six spots coming via the automatic bid for conference tournament champions and the remaining two being awarded as at-large bids. 

When asked about his team’s chances at making a return to the big dance, Hawai’i head coach Charlie Wade was far less hopeful in his expectations for the season to continue for the ‘Bows. 

“I’d say that’s about zero,” Wade responded about the chances Hawai’i sees a tournament selection on Sunday. 

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

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

(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. 

Hawai’i gets back on track with win over CSUN in Big West home opener

Hawai’i gets back on track with win over CSUN in Big West home opener

Hawai’i men’s volleyball bounced back with a loud 4-set win over CSUN for the first Big West win of the season & first victory after Spyros Chakas’ injury. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

Hawai’i gets back on track with win over CSUN in Big West home opener

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 22, 2024

HONOLULU – Back in the win column. 

The 2nd-ranked Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (18-3, 1-2 Big West) bounced back from last weekend’s tough trip to Long Beach with a four-set victory over 18th-ranked CSUN (9-11, 0-3 Big West) 25-15, 19-25, 27-25, 25-17 – picking up the team’s first win in Big West play this season. 

“We’re still just kind of a work in progress,” Hawai’i head coach Charlie Wade surmised after the match. “We can play really, really good and then [the question]’s just are we going to be able to sustain it. Nice to see us bounce back and play pretty steady in the 3rd and 4th sets against a team that was playing with some confidence.” 

Hawai’i looked to quickly make a statement after falling just short in a five-setter last time out, scoring the match’s first four points and eight of the first 10 to force a CSUN timeout early on. The stop in the action did not slow the ‘Bows, as Guilherme Voss grabbed his third kill of the night and met the Matadors at the net to send the first set to a media timeout with UH leading, 15-6. 

Hawai’i’s domination continued as the laser-focused Rainbow Warriors held a comfortable lead through the rest of the opening frame, cruising to a 25-15 win for a 1-0 set lead. 

The second frame started a bit more contested than the opener as CSUN took their first lead of the night, 5-4, before Chaz Galloway smashed a kill from the left side to tie things back at five each. The Matadors continued to charge, taking a three-point advantage, 9-6, thanks to a service error from Galloway and the efforts of Donovan Constable as both a passer and attacker. 

CSUN continued to groove, leading by four after an unsuccessful Hawai’i challenge attempt and rolling into the second frame’s media timeout leading the ‘Bows, 15-10. Though the ‘Bows fought to bring themselves within three a few times down the stretch run of the set, CSUN would not relinquish grip of the lead on the way to tying the match at a set win for each side. 

“I think the first two sets are a bit of a microcosm of where we’re at,” Wade reflected of his team’s early performance. “We can be really impressive, really productive, really efficient like in that 1st set and then the 2nd set, not so much. Credit to Northridge, they played well.” 

The night’s 3rd set mirrored that of the one prior to begin as the teams traded points to a 5-all tie before Hawai’i took a two-point advantage. The ‘Bows took a 10-7 lead after back-to-back errors from CSUN, forcing a Matadors’ timeout to give the visitors a chance to refocus amongst the loud crowd inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. 

The two teams traded points to the media timeout as Tread Rosenthal caught the Matadors by surprise with an attack on the second hit for Hawai’i, keeping the ‘Bows up three, 15-12. Following the stoppage, CSUN found another gear to knot the score at 17-all after an ace from Griffin Walters. 

Walters continued his strong night in the Stan with his 10th kill of the match giving a 22-21 lead to CSUN and forcing Charlie Wade to call for timeout to settle his team. The break in action worked to Hawai’i’s favor as UH scored three of the next four points to go back in front and position themselves for set point. 

After a few tries, Louis Sakanoko ended the frame and gave Hawai’i the two set to one lead with a rocket service ace on UH’s third set point try for an overtime win, 27-25. In all, 11 service errors in the 3rd set alone for CSUN doomed the visitors. 

The teams matched points to a 3-3 tie to start the 4th set before a successful challenge for Wade sparked a run for the Rainbow Warriors, padded by back-to-back blocks from Guilherme Voss, to go up by four. The advantage grew to six by the time the media timeout of the 4th set hit and up to double-digits following a Chaz Galloway-Kurt Nusterer combined block at the net to give Hawai’i a 21-11 lead.  

After Sakanoko racked up his 10th kill of the night to put the Rainbow Warriors on the cusp of victory, CSUN staved off the match ending for five more rallies before Voss finished the evening with his 10th kill for a 25-17 final win in the 4th frame, delivering the ‘Bows to their first victory in the post-Chakas injury world. 

Kyle Hobus led CSUN with a match-high 21 kills on 43 swings, adding five digs and an ace across four sets of action. Griffin Walters added 11 kills of his own to go with three service aces and a handful of digs in the loss for the Matadors. 

Alaka’i Todd led Hawai’i with 13 kills, his fifth consecutive match with double-digit putdowns and his 13th of the season overall. The senior was one of three ‘Bows to finish in double figures in kills as Sakanoko and Voss joined the outside hitter with 10 each.  

Voss was especially nasty at the net, tallying seven blocks to help stymie CSUN’s comeback tries. Sakanoko, the French freshman, continued to show off his tantalizing talent while displaying some of his youthful learning curve as he also finished with double-digit errors adding across attacks, serves and receptions but also was third amongst ‘Bows with seven digs with a team-best three aces. 

“You see some spectacular and some kind of cringey [play],” Wade said of the flying Frenchman. “That’s just where he’s at, you know? He’s a young player that is supremely talented and we’re seeing him get better day-by-day. You watch him, he really is – you see him not only do the really impressive, explosive things athletically that he can do but you’re seeing him modularly where he can recognize situations and gear down a little bit, whether it’s attacking or serving, and have it be effective.” 

The victory is the ninth consecutive for Hawai’i over CSUN, last falling to the Matadors back in March of 2018 on the mainland. The two teams will match up again Saturday evening for the second of the two-match series as the ‘Bows look to even their conference record and the Matadors continue searching for their first conference win of the year. 

The first serve for Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m. inside the Stan Sheriff Center.