Jan. 1—We rarely dare to utter the D word, but the potential is truly there : Dynasty.
We rarely dare to utter the D word, but the potential is truly there :
You will never hear coach Charlie Wade or his players say it, but they could be on the threshold of one, and that makes the University of Hawaii men's volleyball team the most intriguing local sports story heading into 2023.
The Warriors defended their national championship of 2021 last year with mostly new starters—who are all back this season. It should be remembered, though, that there is plenty of elite competition aiming to knock UH off its lofty perch, starting with Big West rival Long Beach State—the team Hawaii swept for the championship, but had also beaten UH two weeks prior.
There will be plenty of other teams for Hawaii sports fans to cheer on in the upcoming year, but the stories that will impact the state also include important ones about health (Tua Tagovailoa's battles with concussions ) and facilities (renovations to UH's athletic facilities, and if Gov. Josh Green can get things moving on the construction of Aloha Stadium ).
1. A spree of three ?
The third time could be as much of a charm as the first two for UH. The Warriors have the goods for 2023 to be as brilliant as their history of the last two years.
Back-to-back national championships have become the norm in the sport the past 10 seasons. Five schools won the natty and all five successfully defended it once, starting with UC Irvine in 2012 and'13.
Most recently it was UH, with sweeps in the finals over BYU in 2021 and Long Beach State last year under Wade.
Everybody is back from the 2022 championship team, so the Warriors have the talent and experience to make it three in a row. The key for UH (27-5 last year ) is to remain hungry and healthy.
Starters Jakob Thelle (Big West Player of the Year ), Chaz Galloway, Spyros Chakas, Guilherme Voss, Dimitrios Mouchlias, Cole Hogland and Brett Sheward return. So do the other three players who appeared in the championship match last May.
The Warriors open this season Jan. 12, against Ball State at SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center.—RELATED :
Men's college volleyball is growing, with 10 new schools joining Division I and II last year (teams from both divisions are eligible for the NCAA tournament ). Merrimack and Missouri S &T make their debuts this year.
Brand-name, long-time rivals like UCLA and Long Beach State—which welcome two of the nation's best three recruiting classes, according to Volleyballmag.com—are among the teams that will make the Warriors earn every point if they are to get a spot in the national tournament again, May 4-6 in Fairfax, Va.
UCLA is the only school that has won more than two national crowns in a row. The Bruins won the sport's first three titles from 1970 to 1972, and again from'74 to'76. UCLA also captured four consecutive championships from 1981 to'84.
2. Tua Will Tagovailoa play football again in 2023 ? This season, or next ? Or ever ?
While NFL fans are split on whether the Dolphins quarterback is grossly overrated or underrated, most seem to agree the former Saint Louis School and Alabama star has taken more than enough hits to the head this season.
Tagovailoa underwent concussion protocol last week after a Christmas Day loss to Green Bay, and complaining of concussion symptoms the next day. He is out for today's game against New England, a crucial one for Miami as it vies for a playoff spot.
On Saturday, the NFL and NFLPA said investigations determined that Tagovailoa did not display concussion symptoms during the Packers game that should have forced him off the field.
This is the second high-profile situation involving Tagovailoa and concussions this season. In late September, he was allowed to re-enter a game against Buffalo after a head injury, and was knocked out of the next game against Cincinnati (just four days later ) with what was clearly a concussion.
The consultant assigned to the Buffalo game responsible for determining if players were clear to go back in after head injuries was subsequently fired by the NFL.
Because of the danger of multiple concussions—especially in a short time span—the debate about Tagovailoa has changed from where he ranks among NFL quarterbacks to when, or even if, he should play football again.
3. Pumping up Ching Renovations are scheduled to start this month at UH's Clarence T.C. Ching Athletic Complex that will raise capacity for football to 16, 909 in time for the Warriors' first home game, Sept. 1 against Stanford.
UH has been playing home games on its former on-campus practice field since the 50, 000-seat Aloha Stadium in Halawa was shut down two years ago. The capacity at Ching was 9, 350 in 2021 and 2022.
The $30 million UH project also includes construction of new track and field and soccer facilities that will start this spring with scheduled completion by May 2024.
The state has approved $350 million for a new Aloha Stadium at the site of the old facility that will seat at least 25, 000 (and possibly be expandable ). But construction contracts have yet to be awarded, and it is not even known when the old stadium will be torn down.
4. UH basketball The UH men's basketball team has already accomplished something the Rainbows never did before by winning the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic last week. It was the first time in the 13-year history of the tournament that the'Bows even made it to the winners' bracket final.
Now, the Warriors have started conference play, and after Saturday's victory over Cal Poly, their 11-3 record is the Rainbows' best start since they were 12-2 in the 2016-17 campaign.
These'Bows aren't as loaded as coach Eran Ganot's first team six years ago that finished with the school's first NCAA Tournament win, but they are rightfully favored to be among the best in the Big West and will contend for a March Madness bid.
5. Wahine volleyball The UH women's volleyball team also returns nearly all of its players in 2023, including All-America middle Amber Igiede.
The Wahine (22-7 overall in 2022 ) went 19-1 in winning the Big West championship and qualifying for a 40th NCAA Tournament berth.
But, starting this year, dominating the conference regular season might not be enough to advance to the NCAAs. The conference has added a tournament to determine the league champion, and if the Big West gets just one automatic berth, it will go to the tournament winner.
So, peaking at the right time and being healthy will be important for the Wahine.
Tournaments will also be added to softball and baseball in 2024.