Hawai’i, a team when healthy and playing its best, proved on Saturday night it was above and beyond the rest when the Rainbow Warriors swept Long Beach State to win the NCAA’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Championship.
“We came out and played pretty well,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade understated after the 25-22, 25-21, 25-20 victory at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
For Hawai’i, it meant back to back after winning it all last year. For the Big West, it meant a fourth title in as many tries after Long Beach State won it all in 2018 and 2019 (beating Hawai’i in the final). There was no championship in 2020.
“I mean, the words just cannot describe the way that I feel now,” Hawai’i setter Jakob Thelle said. “I’m just super proud of all the guys. It’s a team sport, and today’s a team win for all of us. It’s not just a win for ourselves, but a win for Hawai’i, and that’s what means everything’s to us, that we just come out there and have fun and enjoy the game. I couldn’t be more proud.”
Hawai’i finished its season 27-5. It was unbeaten when it went to Ball State in late January minus three key players and lost two matches. Hawai’i was upset at UC San Diego in five on March 2 and then lost back-to-back matches at Long Beach State the first two of April, both times in four.
But Hawai’i finished with nine victories in a row, including a sweep of Long Beach in the Big West final at Hawai’i.
“This is the fourth time we’ve played and the second time in the last couple weeks,” Wade said. “We were very familiar with what was going to go on out there. It doesn’t always ensure that you’re going to execute, and I thought our guys were pretty locked in. We had a pretty good night from the service line — certainly were good when it counted.”
Top-seeded Long Beach ended its season 21-6.
“Well, that’s how it’s been for years,” Long Beach coach Alan Knipe said of playing Hawai’i. “I think the matches at the Pyramid were all really close, the matches in Hawai’i were all really close. It’s no shock to our guys that we’re going to play close sets. Nobody was coming in here thinking it was going to be a blowout game. So, I think what it says, more than anything, is the quality of both of these programs over time.
“There’s a lot of faces that have changed on both sides of the net, but the quality of volleyball is really, really high by a lot of young players out there in their first experience playing in the championships. So, I think it bodes really well for Big West and men’s volleyball throughout the country. But these two programs have been doing some really big things and I think there will be a lot of big matches to come.”
Hawai’i became the fifth team in a row to win back to back titles (UC Irvine in 2012-13, Loyola Chicago in 2014-15, Ohio State in 2016-17, and Long Beach in 2018-19).
Hawai’i, which had nine service aces and, incredibly, one error, hit .434. Long Beach hit .304 and had five aces and nine errors, a remarkably strong statistical serving match in men’s volleyball.
Spryos Chakas led Hawai’i with 14 kills and hit .333 after having four errors in 30 attacks to go with two assists, an ace, three blocks and four digs.
“It feels amazing and shows how much we worked all season,” Chakas said. “It shows we’ve all being dedicated to that. Being a team every day; wanting to do better and wanting to improve. I think that shows a lot and I’m proud that we won.”
Dimitrios Mouchlias had 11 kills in 22 errorless attacks to hit .500 and added a block. Chaz Galloway had eight kills, hit .313 and had an assist and two digs. Guilherme Voss had five kills in seven attacks with no errors and five blocks, one solo. Cole Hogland had four kills in as many tries and three blocks. Thelle had two kills, 31 assists, two aces, three blocks and four digs, and Brett Sheward had six digs and four assists.
Long Beach’s Alex Nikolov put a bow on a spectacular freshman season with 20 kills while hitting .405. He had two assists, an ace and four digs. Spencer Olivier had 11 kills, hit .368, and had an assist and 10 digs. Clarke Godbold had six kills and four digs. Aidan Knipe had 33 assists, an ace and three digs, and Mason Briggs had five digs and three assists.
Hawai’i beat North Greenville last Tuesday in the quarterfinals, and then second-seeded Ball State in the semifinals. Long Beach had a bye into the semifinals where it beat UCLA. Both semis Thursday were five-set thrillers.
“I’m really happy for the conference to have both of us battling for the title out of the Big West,” Knipe said. “And then for my guys, I’m just so proud of the season. Disappointed in the result tonight. We will own some of the things that we think we probably could have been better at, but the experience here this weekend was huge. I’m so proud of the effort on Thursday night to turn that match around and come back and push us to five for that classic win.
“And then I’m so proud of everything we did tonight, even though it wasn’t pretty at times and it wasn’t perfect, the guys stuck in there.”
Worth noting: The NCAA Beach Championship ran long Saturday, which meant more disrespect for men’s volleyball. Not only were the semifinals shown on NCAA.com — not an ESPN outlet — the Hawai’i-Long Beach match, also set for ESPN2, began on ESPN3. The NCAA men’s volleyball championship match finally made it to ESPN2 12 minutes after the hour with the score tied at 8.
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