May 9—COLUMBUS, Ohio — No questions. No regrets. No doubt.
Hawaii erased all of the above in 93 minutes of dominance against a long-time nemesis regarded as close to an equal for much of the NCAA men's volleyball season.
In the end, it wasn't close and the Rainbow Warriors return to Hawaii today as national champions after sweeping Brigham Young in the final match of the NCAA tournament Saturday at the Covelli Center.
Hawaii senior opposite Rado Parapunov capped his career as one of the program's most decorated players by leading the Warriors with 13 kills to claim the accolade he craved above all the rest in UH's 25-21, 25-19, 25-16 rout of the Cougars.
"It doesn't really matter right now if you played good or not. That right here, " Parapunov said, placing a hand on the lei-draped championship trophy, "we got it."
"For the state of Hawaii, that's for you guys."
On the campus of Ohio State University—home of "The Best Damn Band in the Land "—the Warriors served notice that there was indeed no volleyball team finer in the land in completing a quest to exorcise the memories of a loss in the national final two years ago.—This time, the Warriors surged late in all three sets to finish the deal, closing the match with a 6-1 burst and celebrating the previously elusive title when senior middle blocker Patrick Gasman put away a kill in the middle on the final swing of his six-year career in Manoa.
"The trust that (setter ) Jakob (Thelle ) had in me, I knew that like when that pass came off the net, I was like, 'He's gonna give me that ball' and I just had to put that ball away, " said Gasman, who hit.545 with seven kills in 11 attempts.
"I told myself before the game I can't get frustrated. I've got to play for my teammates, and to have my teammates trust me is the biggest thing in the world right now."
Saturday's win was UH's second in an NCAA final, the first coming in 2002 when the Warriors defeated Pepperdine in Pennsylvania. That title would later be vacated by the NCAA, and the Warriors' quest to add a banner in SimpliFi Arena fell short with a loss to Long Beach State in the 2019 title match. That defeat fueled the Warriors going into 2020, but the midseason cancellation extended the sense of "unfinished business."
Three seniors—Parapunov, Gasman and Colton Cowell—pounced on the NCAA's decision to extend the eligibility of spring athletes last year and returned for a final run.
"The championship in 2019 taught us the lingering emotion of what it felt like to lose the biggest match that we've played in up to this point, " Cowell said. "That's just another chip on the shoulder that was left with this team and we've been working to be back in this position for the last two years, and for it to come full circle is really special."
Having earned the top seed in the NCAA tournament, the Warriors rebounded from a stunning loss to UC San Diego in the Big West tournament to turn in two of their most complete performances of the season in sweeping UC Santa Barbara in the national semifinals on Thursday and second-seeded BYU on Saturday.
"That is the most gratifying thing, that we played at such a high level in the national championship and didn't let the other team dictate how we were going to play, " Gasman said. "We played at our level, on our speed, played our game and got our victory."
UH dictated play from the service line to slow down a powerful BYU attack and create scoring opportunities even beyond their 10 aces.
Thelle fired two aces in the second set and two more in the third and distributed 36 assists in a UH attack that finished the night at.381. Cowell added three aces and Parapunov drilled three in a row in a decisive run in the second set.
UH's serve helped keep the Cougars from establishing sustained rhythm throughout the match and BYU hit.263, led by senior Gabi Garcia Fernandez's 12 kills in 28 attempts.
"Serving is kind of our thing—we've worked on it a lot, " UH coach Charlie Wade said. "We wanted to stay aggressive. We talk about aggression from the service line is not always velocity. I think you saw tonight some guys pulled the string a little bit and changed speeds."
Along with Parapunov—the AVCA Player of the Year and NCAA tournament MVP—and Cowell swinging from the outside, freshman Chaz Galloway put down six kills in nine attempts without an error in giving UH a threat from the back row. Freshman middle blocker Guilherme Voss also went 6-for-9 with no errors when Gasman rotated to the back row.
Freshman Spyros Chakas also contributed a four-point service run late in the first set and the Warriors continued to fire from the service line with six aces in the second set, three coming from Parapunov that gave UH a 23-14 lead before taking command with a 2-0 lead in the match. Thelle opened the third set with his third ace and Cowell added another to put UH ahead 4-1.
"I thought they were a little more composed from the service line and in reception, and for some reason we seemed to get a little rattled. I don't know if we've seen that too many times this season, " BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. "Kind of our tentativeness passing led to being tentative at the net attacking in a handful of situations."
BYU would close to 13-11, only to see UH surge away again, and Thelle's fourth ace and Parapunov's final kill gave UH match point. After BYU fought off the first, Gasman put away the second to end the season and complete the championship run.
"I just started yelling, " said junior libero Gage Worsley, who also completed his UH career with seven digs on Saturday. "I almost passed out a couple times. I'm going to have a massive headache tomorrow ... but it's totally worth it."
The Warriors celebrated on the floor as the 175 supporters who were allowed into the Covelli Center cheered from the upper level. The team returns to Honolulu today with plans for a socially distanced celebration outside SimpliFi Arena.
"We are supported at a level in our community that college athletes don't typically see. Not only is this win for the fans of Hawaii, but it is because of the fans of Hawaii, " Wade said.
"The support and the mana, the energy the fans bring to us, it's an unbelievable feeling. This was a culmination of a lot of hard work."