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 battles by UC Irvine in five sets for 11th OUTRIGGER Invitational crown

Hawai’i battles by UC Irvine in five sets for 11th OUTRIGGER Invitational crown

UH outside hitter Spyros Chakas walks to go serve the ball in a January home matchup. The senior left late in the ‘Bows 5-set win over UC Irvine Sunday night with an injury. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i battles by UC Irvine in five sets for 11th OUTRIGGER Invitational crown

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED MAR 10, 2024

HONOLULU – Another weekend, more incredible volleyball in the Stan. 

The Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors men’s volleyball team grabbed the 2024 OUTRIGGER Invitational title Sunday night, inching by #5 UC Irvine (13-6, 2-0 Big West) in five sets – (23-25, 25-19, 25-22, 17-25, 15-13). The victory pushed the ‘Bows current win streak to 16 games while delivering the 11th overall OUTRIGGER Invitational title in program history.

Hawai’i started out on the wrong foot, narrowly dropping the night’s opening set to the Anteaters as UH and UCI traded the lead five times and saw themselves knotted up 14 times during the first frame. Hawai’i hit just .310 to UCI’s .378 over the opening 48 points scored as they watched Anteaters’ French phenom Hilir Henno rack up a staggering 12 kills. 

Outside hitter Alaka’i Todd continued his incredible season with a quality second set, helping push the ‘Bows out to a healthy 15-12 lead midway through. Alongside Spyros Chakas, the duo helped spark Hawai’i to a convincing win in the frame and tie the match at one-all. 

In the third set, it was Keoni Thiim’s turn to take centerstage with a service run of seven points for Hawai’i after originally falling down to take the lead, 12-8. After UCI re-took the lead behind the heavy hand of Henno, it was UH’s turn to show off their French talent as freshman opposite/outside hitter Louis Sakanoko came off the bench to spark Hawai’i to a pivotal win in the set with an outstanding pancake dig and powerful kill to finish it, 25-22. 

For the third time in as many matches for UC Irvine, the Anteaters worked a match to a decisive fifth set as UCI raced out to a 12-2 lead on the way to a dominant fourth frame win by eight points – pushing the Rainbow Warriors to a do-or-die set for just the second time this season. 

Just as he did the first time the ‘Bows went to five this season, head coach Charlie Wade gave the opening serve to Thiim – changing the tides back in favor of Hawai’i as the sizzling server grabbed the first three points for the ‘Bows. 

“We did the exact same thing we did against [Loyola-Chicago] with Keoni starting as the first server and Spyros starting left front … The difference in the fifth set was Keoni’s first service turn,” Wade said of Hawai’i’s strategy for the final frame. 

Hawai’i looked to complete a hard-fought night on a high note, reaching the doorstep of victory at 14-10 before disaster struck for the ‘Bows. 

Spyros Chakas landed awkwardly on his left leg and remained on the ground for several moments after in pain before being carried off the floor by teammates. 

“Obviously we’ve got our fingers crossed in hoping that Spyros is OK,” Wade said of his star senior’s status. “They’ll get some imaging on [the left knee] and we’ll find out more here in the next 24 hours or so.” 

Wade’s team calmed itself enough to complete the win on the fourth “Aloha Ball” point chance as middle blocker Guilherme Voss powered the final kill of the night into center earth for the win, 15-13. 

UCI’s Henno finished with an obscene 36 kills – a career-high and national high mark for this season – in the loss for the Anteaters, tallying a trio of service aces for good measure. 

“[Henno]’s good, he scores in a variety of ways. He’s not just going up and banging it all the time and some of those tip and push and shoot it … I think I could set him out there *chuckle* air it out and let him go do his thing,” Hawai’i’s head coach said while praising the junior outside hitter for the Anteaters. 

Chakas led Hawai’i with 17 kills while chipping in eight digs before his injury. Alaka’i Todd racked up 13 kills while playing “Doorman” at the net with Kurt Nusterer as the two combined for 13 blocks.

The win for Hawai’i completes the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 16-1 record as focus shifts to Big West competition. The challenges only get bigger for the ‘Bows as they hit the road next week to take on pre-season conference favorites #2 Long Beach State in a two-match series. 

Hawai’i remains hot, grabs season sweep of UC Irvine behind McBee’s strong 2nd half

Hawai’i remains hot, grabs season sweep of UC Irvine behind McBee’s strong 2nd half

UH guard MeiLani McBee handles the ball in a Feb. 1 game against Cal State Fullerton. McBee had a team-high 14 points two days later in a win against UC Irvine. | Photo Credit: Michael Lasquero, HSRN

Hawai’i remains hot, grabs season sweep of UC Irvine behind McBee’s strong 2nd half

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED FEB 3, 2024

HONOLULU — Not bad practice before “Beeman’s Big Bash” for UH. 

In a fight for first place in the Big West, the Hawai’i Rainbow Wahine (12-8, 9-2 Big West) muscled past the UC Irvine Anteaters, 55-43, Saturday night inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center to take sole possession of first place in the conference. 

UH entered the night tied atop the league with UCI (14-7, 8-3 Big West), excited for another chance to defend home court in front of over 1,500 fans and avenge last season’s overtime loss inside the Stan to the Anteaters. The young women responded with an inspired defensive effort against a physical UC Irvine squad, tying the second lowest point total against the Rainbow Wahine since BWC play started. 

“We love Hawai’i, we love playing for our fans and when we can do what we’re supposed to do on our home court, that means a lot to our kids,” Hawai’i head coach Laura Beeman said of her squad after moving to 6-0 inside the friendly confines of Mānoa since Big West play began and 8-3 overall at SimpliFi Arena this season. 

Hawai’i guard Olivia Davies opened the scoring with a left-wing triple, banking in the try to give the lead to the hometown Rainbow Wahine just a minute into action. UCI responded in turn, rattling off the next six points to take a 6-3 lead with 4:59 remaining in the opening quarter. Freshman guard Jade Peacock would end a near-six-minute scoring drought for UH with a pair of free throws before the Rainbow Wahine jumped back ahead 25 seconds later as Daejah Phillips went coast-to-coast and dropped in a layup over the front of the iron to make it 7-6.  

In all, the Rainbow Wahine closed the opening frame on a 10-3 run behind their defense and quality foul shooting to take a 13-9 lead into the second. 

UH’s dynamic backcourt of Phillips and Lily Wahinekapu continued to produce on the offensive end, trading turns creating points for the Rainbow Wahine as the advantage grew as large as 10 not even midway through the second quarter. Hawai’i would maintain around the double-digit lead up until right before halftime when UCI’s Nikki Tom stole away a Davies pass and quickly pushed it ahead to Deja Lee for a layup to beat the clock and bring the Anteaters within nine at the break, 27-18.  

Star sophomore forward Imani Perez, back from a one-game absence due to personal reasons, got the Hawai’i scoring going once again to open the third quarter by draining a mid-range jumper from the top of the key to make it an 11-point lead before back-to-back buckets from Lee brought the visitors back within seven.

After seeing the Hawai’i lead go back up to 11, UC Irvine head coach Tamara Inoue and staff decided to employ a 2-2-1 zone press, slowing down the Rainbow Wahine offense enough to cut the margin down to six with two and a half minutes left in the period — enough to make for an awkwardly-anxious crowd inside the Stan Sheriff Center. 

Laura Beeman’s battle-tested squad did not flinch despite the ever-shrinking lead, responding calmly with a Davies drive-and-kick to a wide open Wahinekapu for a much-needed three-pointer to give UH a nine-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes. 

The Rainbow Wahine opened the final frame with a continued hot hand from long range as MeiLani McBee showed off the quick trigger on a pair of threes and Perez got the hoop-and-harm to extend to a 14-point lead for UH.

“Great to have Imani back,” Beeman smiled admitting postgame. “We needed her as much as she needed us.” 

Despite the Anteaters’ best efforts, UCI’s 0-of-15 night from long distance and the Rainbow Wahine’s defensive grit saw Hawai’i close out the victory, 55-43. 

“We knew it was going to be physical, it was physical the first time [against UC Irvine],” Perez said postgame. “[Coach Beeman] says that we need to be the aggressor and I feel like our team was really ready to take hits today and we knew what they were coming out with.” 

The hard-fought battle resulted in 37 free throws being taken between the two squads and likely just as many bruises from block-outs underneath the basket as the Rainbow Wahine dominated the glass, 44-32.  

“Like I said on Thursday, they are an aggressive team, and we knew we needed to be aggressive, and I think we capitalized on it today,” McBee added. 

McBee led the way in scoring for Hawai’i, dropping all 14 of her points in the second half while collecting seven rebounds along the way. UH’s Wahinekapu added 11 points while Perez piled up 10 points to go along with six boards in her return. 

UCI’s Deja Lee led all scorers with 21 points on 9-of-19 shooting, racking up four steals on the night. No other UC Irvine player broke the double-digit threshold for points as Hawai’i held the Anteaters to just 25% (16-of-64 FG) shooting from the floor overall. 

UH hits the road once again next week for a two-game trip, facing off with UC San Diego for the second time this season before stopping by UC Davis. Hawai’i was a 64-52 winner over UCSD back on January 20 at home and enters the game as the lone team atop the Big West totem pole.  

Hawai’i falls short against UC Irvine, drops 5th of last six games

Hawai’i falls short against UC Irvine, drops 5th of last six games

Hawai’i falls short against UC Irvine, drops 5th of last six games

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED JAN 11, 2023

HONOLULU — The University of Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (9-7, 1-3 Big West) dropped their fifth game in the last six tries on Thursday, falling to conference-leading UC Irvine (12-5, 5-0 Big West), 60-50, inside SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center. 

The two squads got off to a back-and-forth start, trading the lead multiple times as Hawai’i trailed, 7-6, at the first media timeout. After trading the lead nine times, the ‘Bows pushed back ahead for the final time, going up 15-13 with 11:31 left in the opening half after Bernardo de Silva got a cutting layup to go. 

That’s when the Anteaters of UC Irvine would roll off a 20-5 run over the final 11 minutes of the first half – aided by a rare Eran Ganot technical foul after back-to-back questionable decisions from the officials – to enter the halftime break with a 33-20 lead in hand. 

Despite the momentary step back, Ganot had hopes that the intensity of him fighting for his guys would help inspire an otherwise dull ‘Bows offensive effort.  

“I didn’t like the call – I don’t get many [techs],” Ganot said of the technical foul postgame. “I liked the fire our guys had in the second half. I said at halftime I would get myself thrown out of this game if it meant some kind of light, spark [for the team].” 

UH’s JoVon McClanahan sparked the ‘Bows second half offense from the start with a free throw line pull-up to begin a better offensive second half for the Rainbow Warriors. Behind the team’s defense, Hawai’i continued to stick around with the conference-leading Anteaters and with the help of super-sub Juan Munoz, UH crept back from 15 points down to make it a one possession game, 48-45, with nine minutes remaining in regulation. 

That would be the closest it would get for the Rainbow Warriors, giving up back-to-back buckets to see the Irvine lead grow back to seven. Hawai’i continued to make comeback efforts as the time ticked off, but the effort proved futile as UH would fall to the cream of the crop in the Big West Conference, 60-50. 

UC Irvine was led by Pierre Crockrell II’s 16 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the floor, getting 12 points from each of John Hohn and Carter Welling as well in the victory. 

“He understands the position at a high level,” Ganot said of the Anteaters’ guard after the game. “Today was one of the games he scored more. He usually doesn’t score as much but he can, he’s capable. He’s an elite midrange pull-up guy… [We] respect him.” 

Hawai’i’s Bernardo de Silva finished the night with a game-best 17 points and 14 rebounds, posting his fifth double-double of the season. Juan Munoz chipped in nine points and handed out three assists off of the bench in the loss for UH. 

The ‘Bows will try to get back to their winning ways this weekend when they host UC Riverside on Saturday, January 13 inside SimpliFi Arena.