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UH sweeps UCSB, to play for national title

Rainbow Warriors set to face BYU Saturday for NCAA championship

Patrick Gasman (left) and the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team celebrate during the Rainbow Warriors’ 25-21, 25-18, 25-23 victory over UC Santa Barbara in the NCAA tournament semifinals Thursday in Columbus, Ohio. Hawaii will take on BYU in the national final Saturday at 2 p.m. HST. University of Hawaii Athletics photos

The Maui News

The last time the University of Hawaii took on BYU in men’s volleyball, it was an epic five-set thriller that was thought to be a preview of the 2020 national championship.

It might be one year late, but the rematch for it all is finally set.

The Rainbow Warriors swept past UC Santa Barbara 25-21, 25-18, 25-23 in the NCAA national semifinals Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, earning a spot in the national championship match for the second straight tournament.

Top-seeded UH (16-1) will take on No. 2 BYU (20-3) — which defeated Lewis 25-22, 25-15, 26-28, 25-20 in the second semifinal — in the final Saturday at 2 p.m. Hawaii time. The match will be televised live on ESPNU.

UH outside hitter Colton Cowell hits against UCSB’s Randy DeWeese on Thursday. Cowell, a graduate of King Kekaulike High School, finished with 10 kills.

In the all-Big West first semifinal, AVCA National Player of the Year Rado Parapunov led the Warriors with 12 kills and 11 digs against the Gauchos (16-5), who lost to UH for the fourth time this season.

King Kekaulike High School graduate Colton Cowell finished with 10 kills, four digs, one block, one ace and one assist for Hawaii. Patrick Gasman also had 10 kills along with a team-high six blocks as the Warriors dominated at the net, outblocking UCSB 13-4. Jakob Thelle dished out 32 assists as UH hit .263 to the Gauchos’ .170.

Coming off their first loss of the season in the Big West tournament semifinals, the Warriors were able to pull away at the end of a close first set. With the teams tied at 18, UH reeled off three straight points on a Parapunov kill, a triple block by Cowell, Gasman and Parapunov, and an ace by Thelle, one of the setter’s three in the match. The Warriors closed the set out with a block by Guilherme Voss and Parapunov.

UH raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second set and, with its block contributing to a .000 hitting percentage for the Gauchos, the Warriors were never seriously threatened. A pair of kills by Cowell ended it.

UCSB bounced back by taking a 12-11 lead in the third set before a six-point run by UH. The Gauchos slowly closed the gap, getting within 23-22. Hawaii got to match point on a UCSB service error, and after a sideout, Parapunov crushed his final kill to send the Warriors back to the national championship match.

Randy DeWeese led the Gauchos with 13 kills.

UH, which lost to Long Beach State in the 2019 national final, and BYU were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, when they met in early March last year for a pair of highly charged matches at the Stan Sheriff Center. The Cougars swept the Warriors on Night 1, but in front of a sellout crowd on Night 2, UH rallied for a 20-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-23, 19-17 victory in what became an instant classic.

Unfortunately, it was Hawaii’s last match of the season as COVID-19 shut down sports around the country shortly thereafter. The rematch that was anticipated a couple of months later never happened.

Better late than never.

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