Cowell not quite ready to bid aloha to UH

King Kekaulike grad leaning toward returning to Rainbow Warriors if NCAA grants additional year of eligibility

Colton Cowell, shown hitting against NJIT during a match last season, was a key starter for the No. 2-ranked University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team this season, which was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. UH ATHLETICS photos

Like just about everyone else in the world, Colton Cowell’s life has changed drastically in the last few weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2015 King Kekaulike High School graduate was a key starter on the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team that was ranked No. 2 in the nation.

As a fifth-year senior, national team and professional volleyball opportunities were shining brightly on the horizon, in the near future.

When the NCAA canceled all spring sports, UH went to online classes only and the 50th state shut down all over the place, Cowell was left to consider what was next.

“That’s been really difficult to process, especially given the fact that it was on paper my senior year, my last year of eligibility, and from what we’ve displayed to the country, we were a very talented volleyball team that had a lot of potential to make it all the way, in all honesty,” Cowell said via phone from Oahu on Saturday.

Colton Cowell has seen his follower total on Instagram more than double in the last two years, gaining attention due to his starring role on the UH team as well as on the U.S. team at last summer’s Pan Am Games.

The final matches of UH’s 15-1 season in 2020 were a three-set loss to BYU on March 5, a night that Cowell struggled with a .174 hitting percentage that included five errors, and then a dramatic five-set win for UH over the Cougars on March 6 in a match that Cowell sat out due to inflammation from knee tendinitis.

“I’ve dealt with tendinitis in my knees before, but to that degree I hadn’t experienced anything like that,” Cowell said. “That was incredibly frustrating, that was an incredibly frustrating pregame recognizing that I would be unable to compete in that match.

“I had a fantastic seat for that match, it was incredible.”

It just didn’t feel like the right ending for a player who had climbed from compiling just 22 total kills in his first three seasons in Manoa to one who was a starter in the NCAA championship match last season, a player who redshirted as a sophomore in 2017 to one who represented the United States in the Pan Am Games last summer.

The feeling in the Stan Sheriff Center was electric on March 6, and less than a week later the lights on the 2020 season were turned off.

Today the NCAA is expected to vote to grant an additional year of eligibility to spring sport athletes and — if all the logistics can be worked out — Cowell is strongly leaning toward returning. So are the other three senior standouts for this team — opposite Rado Parapunov, middle blocker Patrick Gasman and outside hitter James Anastassiades.

“I have a very big decision coming up,” Cowell said. “Obviously playing at the University of Hawaii has yielded the most incredible memories that I’ve experienced in this lifetime and competing on the court, wearing a UH jersey has definitely left me with some fond memories and incredible experiences.

“I’m not sure if I am ready to leave it at that, I’m not sure if I am ready to finish my career with the way that it happened so unexpectedly.”

He does know there are hurdles to be cleared with the whole process.

“(There are) certain financial implications that I’m going to have to look into with my family and my coaching staff once the decision is made by the NCAA,” Cowell said. “But thus far my intention is if the opportunity presents itself and the circumstances are right, I would definitely enjoy staying another year and competing for the Rainbow Warriors.”

He already holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and is currently finishing up a minor in sociology. Kinesiology would probably be his area of study next year.

“I love the University of Hawaii, I love playing volleyball for the University of Hawaii, I love everything that comes with being an athlete in this program,” Cowell said. “I think it has transformed me into the man that I am today and I’m not sure if I want to say ‘a hui hou’ yet.”

There is no doubt that Hawaii coach Charlie Wade would welcome Cowell back, but Wade also noted the logistics that are part of the equation.

“I think all of our seniors want to come back, it’s just the circumstances,” Wade said. “With the NCAA coming out saying they’re going to extend eligibility sounded great and sounds great, but it’s the actual details and how it’s going to play out. It certainly raised more questions than it answered.

“But it is nice to know that the seniors want to come back and make another run at it. I mean, obviously the season was cut short and they’d like to see it through to completion.”

Because Cowell is so new to the upper-echelons of college volleyball, Wade believes that another season in green and white would benefit the young man from Makawao.

“Guys in our program get better and they continue to get better,” Wade said. “Certainly Colton has evolved and has come so far. For him, I think specifically, another year of being in the limelight, being a guy that has to play at those big moments, that’s really valuable.

“He came so far and he wasn’t the guy that had the huge high school or club career or junior national team, so really him being a feature player on the court is new. And certainly getting more experience at that can only help him.”

Both Wade and Cowell have had to adjust their daily schedules recently.

Wade said he has been able to do a lot of extra yard work, put up a new fence and play several two-on-two basketball games at home with his three teenage sons. He also keeps up with his team via Zoom online meetings.

Cowell’s regular day now includes working out with resistance bands and weighted vests in the sand, completing his spring semester classes online and doing the occasional dishes and cleaning the apartment he shares with girlfriend Sydney Kidd, a former beach player for UH.

He has also seen his follower total on Instagram more than double in the last two years to nearly 12,000. He has drawn followers through the success of Hawaii, his national team exposure, international teammates at UH, and the fact that he is a starting outside hitter at 6-foot-1, a relative short stature in the world of men’s college volleyball.

Each night he said he will answer questions from around the world for “maybe eight to 12 kids.”

He chuckled a bit when asked about the social media contacts.

“I now have a lot of time in my day, right? So I have a lot of kids and young athletes that have been reaching out to me with various questions,” Cowell said. “And it’s kind of nice to be able to really give my time to address them and give my attention and detailed response to whatever questions they may have.

“It’s a very diverse kind of population that reaches out to me. I have kids from different countries reaching out, I have kids from the state, kids specifically from Maui. There’s been a couple times when someone will DM me in a different language and I’m, like, ‘I wish could understand you so I could send a response, but I have no idea what you’re saying.’ “

Some of the followers are from Peru, where he led the USA to sixth place in the Pan Am Games last summer.

“A lot of young athletes kind of just saw there’s a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from an island, from the island of Maui … and he’s out here representing his country on one of the biggest stages,” Cowell said. “I mean, the Pan American Games were about as close to an Olympic Games scenario as you can get.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.


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