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Apr. 15—There are times Colton Cowell scans his side of the net in wonder.
A King Kekaulike graduate who worked his way to All-America status himself, Cowell's perspective on Hawaii's lineup speaks to the array of talent within a Rainbow Warrior senior class impressive in individual honors yet committed to the collective effort.
"I am playing next to the three best players at their respective positions in the country, " Cowell said in reference to UH opposite Rado Parapunov, middle blocker Patrick Gasman and libero Gage Worsley.
"It leaves me in awe sometimes what these three guys are capable of performing when they're on the court."
Cowell, an AVCA second-team All-American in 2020, had provided his share of breathtaking moments as well over his career and will be among the six Warriors honored after No. 1 UH (13-0, 8-0 Big West ) completes the regular season schedule with matches against UC Irvine (2-11, 2-6 ) Friday and Saturday at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center.
While Hawaii's traditional—albeit fan-less—senior night ceremony after Saturday's match will punctuate the regular season, the honorees won't say final good-byes to SimpliFi Arena with the Big West tournament still to be held in Manoa next week.
But the senior festivities will offer a chance to recognize the contributions of Cowell, Parapunov, Gasman, Worsley, reserve setter Jackson Van Eekeren and James Anastassiades (a former outside hitter who completed his playing career last year and remained with the program as a student assistant ) in the Warriors' rise into a national title contender.
"(Senior night is ) unlike anything like anywhere else in probably the world to be honest, " said Worsley, who has a year of eligibility remaining but will graduate this season. "So I'm so happy to be part of that. And to be one of the seniors that made it this far (I'm ) very appreciative of what Hawaii has done and how it developed me as a person on and off the floor."
The reach of this year's class stretches back to the 2015-16 academic year when Cowell made the trip from Maui after an All-State career at King Kekaulike and was joined by Gasman and Anastassiades in that year's freshman class. Parapunov arrived the following year as a promising opposite from Bulgaria while Van Eekeren made his way to Hawaii from Naperville, Ill.
Worsley recalled playing against Gasman when he was 11 and they played together since they were 15 as club standouts in California. He made an instant impact in the back row in 2018 when he joined older brother and eventual All-American setter Joe Worsley in Manoa.
Over the last four years, the group has contributed to a 75-12 mark overall and 22-6 in Big West matches. Since 2019 the Warriors are 56-4 overall and 16-2 in conference play. Parapunov and Worsley earned AVCA first-team All-Americans the last two years while Gasman has made the second team twice and Cowell earned second-team honors last year.
"I really think that this senior class, which includes guys that graduated in 2019 as well, has really established a legacy here that I think will continue to inspire players ... for years to come, " said Cowell, a high-flier as a 6-foot-1 outside hitter alongside the 6-9 Parapunov and 6-10 Gasman. "I'm just really grateful to have been a part of that process and contributed in whatever role I could."
When the college sports season was halted last spring amid the spread of COVID-19—with the Warriors in California to face Cal State Northridge—it appeared UH's five-set win over BYU before a sellout crowd at the Stan Sheriff Center would retroactively mark the sendoff for the seniors.
When the NCAA allowed players extend their eligibility by a year, Cowell, Gasman and Parapunov elected to return for a "super senior " season, boosted by aid from the community to help fund the extra year.
"That's something that we're very humbled by and super appreciative (of ), " UH coach Charlie Wade said. "I remember having to sit down with Rado, literally the day or two after we got back and he was all in. ... They're all kind of in the same place and they feel a sense that there's some unfinished business and wanting to continue on this journey and hopefully see it through to the championship."
After falling short in the NCAA final in 2019 and having last season cut short at 15-1, the prospect of capturing a national title kept the group together for another run. Along the way, they've built on the efforts of those who came before while putting their imprint on the program's culture for others to follow.
"I look back to the people they learned from, " Wade said, "whether it's a Kupono Fey and Henrik Mol. Those guys were really hard workers and focused and they showed the next group of Stijn Van Tilburg and Joe Worsley and those guys, and then they pass it on to this group.
"Certainly our hope is that in the future, (the Warriors ) will be playing at the same level and we'll be saying the same kind of things about them. Then it'll have shown that they learned from Pat, Colton and Rado how to go about their business and how to continue to improve."
BIG WEST MEN'S VOLLEYBALL At SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center—Who : UC Irvine (2-11, 2-6 BWC ) vs. No. 1 Hawaii (13-0, 8-0 )—When : Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.—TV : Spectrum Sports—Radio : 1420-AM / 92.7-FM (Fri.), 1500-AM (Sat.)