The Rainbow Warriors shined bright in the national television spotlight and showed exactly way they are one of the favorites to win the national championship.
Setter Jakob Thelle led the offense to a .330 attack percentage as the No. 1 seed Hawai’i defeated the No. 3 seed UC Irvine 25-18, 21-25, 25-13, 25-22 in the Big West Tournament finals on Saturday in Irvine, California.
The two-time defending NCAA champions hit more than .400 in two of the four games that were played in front of a crowd of 4,064 people. In addition, the Rainbow Warriors had a combined seven attack errors in the final two games to secure their second straight Big West title and fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Along with Thelle’s setting performance, the Big West Tournament Most Valuable Player had multiple serving runs to give the Hawai’i early leads in the third and fourth game.
Thelle’s serve forced UC Irvine out-of-system multiple times during an 8-0 run to open the third game after UC Irvine won the second game to even the match. The setter also was serving during a 3-0 run to start the fourth game.
Hawai’i had two players with double-digit kills in the road postseason win.
Opposite Dimitrios Mouchlias finished with a team-high 17 kills on a .387 attack percentage, while Chaz Galloway had 13 kills and hit .417. Middle attacker Cole Hogland added seven kills on a perfect 1.000 attack percentage against the Anteaters.
Hogland also led the team with eight blocks as Hawai’i out-blocked UC Irvine 17 to 12.
Five of the Hawai’i starters had at least five blocks, including Thelle, Mouchlias and Galloway.
UC Irvine in the loss was held to a .160 attack percentage and hit less than .100 in each of the final two games.
Outside attacker Hilir Henno led the Anteaters with 17 kills. Opposite Francesco Sani had 13 kills but was held to a .054 attack percentage.
Henno and Sani were the only Anteaters to have more than five kills.
Middle attacker Maxim Grigoriev defensively finished with a team-high eight blocks.
This conference finals was televised on ESPNU and was the first nationally televised NCAA men’s volleyball match on an ESPN channel this season. It also was the first conference tournament match in recent history to be televised on an ESPN channel.
Hawai’i with this victory receives the Big West’s automatic berth to the seven-team NCAA Tournament. A team from the Big West has won the last four consecutive NCAA championships.