Top-ranked Hawaii men's volleyball team sees its postseason fate in the hands of an NCAA committee

Jason Kaneshiro, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·5 min read

Apr. 25—A weekend of waiting and watching wasn't what Hawaii had in mind.

After a stunningly brief appearance in the Big West men's volleyball tournament, the Rainbow Warriors were left to track the results of conference finals at home and around the country on Saturday while awaiting today's announcement of the seven-team field for the NCAA championship.

"The other leagues will finish up and we'll be watching the selection show on Sunday and see what our fate is, " UH coach Charlie Wade said in the aftermath of a five-set loss to UC San Diego in the Big West semifinals on Friday at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center.

The NCAA selection show, set for 7 a.m. today and to be streamed on NCAA.com, will reveal the tournament field of five automatic qualifiers and two at-large berths that will convene in Columbus, Ohio, on May 3-8.

UH (15-1 ) went undefeated in the regular season and has held the top spot in the NVA /AVCA DI-II coaches poll and the Off the Block media poll for most of the last two months. So when asked about UH's chances for an at-large berth, Wade succinctly replied, "Good."

While the Warriors absorbed the disappointment of seeing their shot at pairing the conference regular-season and tournament titles slip away in their final home match of the season, the early exit from the Big West bracket may have burst the bubble for other teams perhaps eyeing an at-large spot.

Belmont Abbey earned an automatic bid by winning the Conference Carolinas tournament on April 18. No. 2 BYU (MPSF ), No. 4 Lewis (MIVA ) and No. 8 Penn State (EIVA ) secured berths in tournament finals on Saturday. No. 3 UC Santa Barbara with a win over UC San Diego in the conference championship match in Manoa.

After UH, No. 5 Pepperdine is the next highest ranked team in the coaches' poll without an automatic bid after the Waves' loss to BYU on Saturday.

The NCAA tournament opens on May 3 with a play-in match, followed by two opening-round matches on May 4. The top two seeds will advance directly to the semifinals on May 6, with the national championship set for May 8.

An at-large spot would offer UH a chance at redemption after seeing a 16-match winning streak snapped in an uncharacteristic performance against a UC San Diego team that entered the Big West tournament on a five-match losing streak and had dropped four previous meetings with the Warriors this season, three in sweeps.

UH entered the week leading the nation in hitting percentage at.373 and fourth in blocks per set (2.77 ), but the Warriors hit.281 against the Tritons, who ended the night with 13.5 blocks to UH's 8.5.

UH opposite Rado Parapunov, coming off back-to-back AVCA national player of the week awards, hit.067 with 16 kills offset by a career-high 13 errors in 45 swings in his final appearance in Manoa. He began the week among the conference and national leaders at.367.

"He's been so spectacular, I think we've come to expect the superhuman from him, " Wade said. "(The Tritons ) definitely played good defense and touched a lot of balls, but Rado had a very un-Rado-like night and San Diego deserves credit for chasing down a lot of balls."

The Tritons also served up 10 aces, which UH countered with 11, but the pressure from the service line contributed to UH being out of rhythm at times in the match. UCSD's Kyle McCauley fired four aces to go along with a match-high 18 kills. Ryan Ka added three aces and 14 kills, six coming in the fifth set.

"Something we're usually good at and we were just a little off tonight, " Wade said of UH's Friday serve-reception performance. "For sure, McCauley can bring it. I saw him (Thursday ) night touch 75 (mph ) and he had a really good turn a couple times in the first set. But overall, I think most teams right now in order to compete against us just go for broke from the service line and they had some guys put in some good turns and created point scoring for them."

UH middle blocker Patrick Gasman dominated early, with seven kills in 10 swings in the first set on his way to matching his career high with 17 kills. A flurry of UH serving and hitting errors aided UCSD's win in the second set. UH appeared to get back on track in dominating the third set, but UCSD, playing with abandon as the night progressed, extended the match with a late surge in the fourth set.

The final stages of the match became a duel between Parapunov and Ka, with UH fighting off two match points and UCSD erasing one. Ka's final kill gave UCSD a third chance to spring the upset, which the Tritons finished off when backup setter Andrew Boyle tapped down a free ball from Colton Cowell.

"I've learned not to overanalyze what happened tonight, and give it some space, let it kind of marinate a little bit and let us watch some film and just gain some perspective because I think everybody's emotional after a night like this, " Wade said Friday. "So we'll gather (Saturday ), debrief a little bit and then put the plans together for getting together Sunday and see what our future holds."