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 slowly finding way again, takes down UCSB in three sets

Hawai’i slowly finding way again, takes down UCSB in three sets

Chaz Galloway stares across the court in a match for Hawai’i; the senior led the Rainbow Warriors with 10 kills in a sweep against #20 UC Santa Barbara on March 29, 2024. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i slowly finding way again, takes down UCSB in three sets

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 29, 2024

HONOLULU – Play that sweet, sweep music. 

The 5th-ranked Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (19-4, 2-3 Big West) took down the 20th-ranked UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (7-15, 0-6 Big West) in straight sets Friday night in front of more than 6,000 people – (25-23, 25-21, 26-24). 

“We’re still a work-in-progress, there’s no doubt. We’re seeing glimpses of it and we are just going to keep grinding,” Hawai’i’s Charlie Wade said following the win.

Earlier in the week, Hawai’i dropped outside of the top 4 in the AVCA rankings poll for the first time since the final poll of the 2018 season following their weekend split with CSUN. After 91 consecutive weeks of men’s volleyball seasons passing with Hawai’i as one of the sport’s top quartet of competitors, Friday marked new waters for many Rainbow Warriors. 

The Gauchos looked to become the next program to snap a long losing streak against the ‘Bows as the teams traded the first 18 points of the night to a 9-9 score before Hawai’i finally was able to gain a multi-point lead with Guilherme Voss steady at the service line, 11-9. The visitors returned fire with three straight points – capped off by an ace from former UH setter Jack Walmer – to slither ahead, 12-11.  

The set returned to original form, trading points into the media timeout as Hawai’i led 15-14 after a triple block from Kurt Nusterer, Tread Rosenthal and Louis Sakanoko. The ‘Bows flew out of the timeout with back-to-back kills from Rosenthal and Alaka’i Todd for a three-point lead, but UCSB’s Geste Bianchi brought the Gauchos back within one with a mini-run of his own. 

Hawai’i came to the doorstep of a set one victory, 24-20, after Todd and Sakanoko pushed home a pair of kills, but the Gauchos made things interesting by staving off the first loss with three points in a row. The Rainbow Warriors escaped the opening set with a win on their fourth set point try as Chaz Galloway smashed his fourth kill of the evening. 

The ‘Bows, looking to build off their opening set win, grabbed the first two points of the 2nd set and continued building to a 7-4 lead with Todd and Nusterer continuing to keep “Mānoa Roofing Company” open on Good Friday, forcing a timeout from UC Santa Barbara.  

The lead grew to four after Rosenthal dunked one down on the second hit and Voss (after a review) won a joust at the net to give Hawai’i the 12-to-8 advantage. The ‘Bows would carry that same four-point margin into the media timeout after Galloway floated his seventh kill of the evening over a Gauchos’ block attempt.

With the help of some Hawai’i miscommunications and more service aces, UCSB tied the 2nd set at 16-16 and forced a timeout from head coach Charlie Wade. The break in the action did wonders for the ‘Bows as UH rattled off four of the next five points to take a 20-17 lead and flip the tide to force a timeout from the visiting Gauchos. 

Hawai’i powered through the final five points it needed, capped by a Nusterer punch, to take a commanding two sets to none lead over the Gauchos taking the frame, 25-21. 

The Rainbow Warriors raced out to a quick three-point lead in the 3rd set with four of the first five points, hoping to send the six thousand screaming fans home pleased and early on a Friday. They continued that dream by maintaining a healthy distance with UCSB before heading into the media timeout with a 15-13 lead. 

The 5th-ranked team in the nation continued to roll, pushing the advantage to five with more steady play after the stoppage, 20-15. The Gauchos used back-to-back aces from Owen Loncar to pull back within two and force a timeout from Hawai’i and rode the wave of momentum to knot things at 24 and send the 3rd set into a very brief pair of overtime points. 

Hawai’i took care of business after a service error from the Gauchos set up match point for the Rainbow Warriors and a Sakanoko second-chance kill finished the night on a high note as UH swept the ‘Chos in straight sets. 

“You know, I thought it was good, not great [tonight],” UH head coach Charlie Wade said postgame, referencing the number of self-inflicted errors the ‘Bows continue to allow. “We make nine errors in the first set – which is under where we had ballooned up to – and then we end up with [33 errors] in three sets so you’re still back to [11 errors averaged per set] and I think we’re better than that.”

UC Santa Barbara standout Geste Bianchi led all participants with a match-high 17 kills on 39 swings for the Gauchos. Ben Coordt and Patrick Kane added seven kills apiece for the visitors as they dropped their 17th consecutive meeting with Hawai’i in men’s volleyball. 

Chaz Galloway recorded his 25th career double-digit kill match, posting 10 kills to lead UH while adding four digs in his second-to-last regular season home appearance. Sakanoko and Voss each chipped in nine kills each and were particularly vicious at the net throughout the night. 

Four different ‘Bows had six or more digs on the night as well as Hawai’i’s hustle defense helped them get back on track after a rather stunning loss to CSUN last Saturday. While it was not a normal Alaka’i Todd game for kills, the 6th-year senior made sure to make his presence felt all night anyway with six kills, seven digs and a block to push UH back on the line of .500 in Big West play.

“[Alaka’i] has, for this team and in this moment in time, evolved into a veteran guy that we need a good performance from every night,” Wade said of his outside hitter’s all-around contributions.

The teams meet again Saturday evening for Hawai’i’s “Senior Night” as the ‘Bows honor six players in the team’s final home match of the regular season. First serve is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. with senior night proceedings following the contest. With a win, Hawai’i would clinch the program’s third straight 20-plus win season and 13th in program history while keeping the Gauchos winless in conference action this season. 

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.