No. 1 UH faces No. 6 Ball State in NCAA semifinal rematch

Jan. 11—Hawaii enters the season holding the title of two-time defending men's volleyball national champion.

Hawaii enters the season holding the title of two-time defending men's volleyball national champion.

The Rainbow Warriors will commemorate last season's conquest when they unveil a second banner in the rafters of SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center on Friday night.

Even so, the top-ranked Warriors face No. 6 Ball State in Thursday's season opener focused on their pursuit of another crown rather than protecting previous titles.

"My mindset is we're still going for the same goal as all the other teams, " UH middle blocker Cole Hogland said.

"It's not really us having a target on our back. It's us focusing on the next one rather than worrying about that last two. Those two seasons are over already, they happened, now the main focus is to get another one. It's not let's defend last year's title, it's more go take the next title."

The Warriors' run over the past two seasons continued a trend of repeat titles spanning the past decade. UC Irvine, Loyola Chicago, Ohio State, Long Beach State and now UH all won back-to-back NCAA championships.

UCLA was the last program to string together at least three titles when the Bruins claimed four in a row from 1981 to'84.

UH will make its bid for a third crown with a starting lineup that returns intact following last season's 27-5 finish.

With a rotation that features four players who received AVCA All-America recognition last season—setter Jakob Thelle (first team ), outside hitter Spyros Chakas and middle blocker Guilherme Voss (second team ), and opposite Dimitrios Mouchlias (honorable mention )—the Warriors naturally topped the AVCA's preseason coaches poll, drawing 21 of 22 first-place votes. Their margin over No. 2 UCLA shrunk just slightly in the first poll of the regular season released on Monday.

"We don't get too caught up in that, " UH coach Charlie Wade of the poll said during last week's media day session. "We haven't talked about that at all, literally. No one has even brought it up."

The Warriors closed the season on a nine-match winning streak that included a five-set comeback win over Ball State in the national semifinals at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

The Cardinals, led by Baldwin graduate Donan Cruz, swept a series with UH early last season in Muncie, Ind., and held a 2-1 lead over the Warriors in the final four rematch. UH rallied for a 28-26, 19-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-11 win to advance to the final, then swept Big West rival Long Beach State.

Cruz was named the AVCA Coach of the Year following the 23-4 season and the Cardinals return first-team All-America outside attacker Kaleb Jenness and honorable mention middle blocker Felix Egharevba. Ball State was voted the favorite in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association's preseason poll with Jenness also named the MIVA preseason Player of the Year.

Jenness ranked second nationally with 4.65 kills per set last season and Egharevba led the country with 1.41 blocks per set, followed by Voss at 1.37.

"Clearly one of the best teams last year and traditionally the program has been really good, " Wade said. "So getting a chance to start the season against one of the top teams I think will be great."

The Cardinals lead off a UH schedule that includes the next eight teams ranked in this week's AVCA Top 10.

"We know we've got a good schedule and we play in the best league, so we know we're going to have high-level competition all throughout the season, " Wade said. "But it's men's volleyball, everybody is ultra competitive. It's nice to have that many top teams on the schedule—you're not going to be able to overlook anybody and it helps keep us motivated and keep improving throughout the year."

Banner night The 2022 championship banner ceremony will precede Friday's 7 p.m. rematch with Ball State. The first 6, 000 fans will receive a commemorative rally towel.

UH's clear-bag policy remains in effect and fans are encouraged to have their digital tickets ready to be scanned to expedite entry at Gate A. Turnstile gates open at 5 :45 p.m.

Rainbow Warriors volleyball At SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center No. 6 Ball State vs. No. 1 Hawaii—When : Thursday and Friday, 7 p.m.—TV : Spectrum Sports—Radio : 1420-AM / 92.7-FM