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Hawaii men's volleyball roars back in big way to beat UC Irvine

Apr. 7—Even after Friday's sweep at the hands of No. 5 UC Irvine, Hawaii men's volleyball coach Charlie Wade insisted his team was pretty close to playing winning volleyball against high-quality opponents.

Even after Friday's sweep at the hands of No. 5 UC Irvine, Hawaii men's volleyball coach Charlie Wade insisted his team was pretty close to playing winning volleyball against high-quality opponents.

The fourth-ranked Rainbow Warriors finally pulled out a set against the Anteaters on Saturday and then looked like a team worthy of its top-five ranking in a 22-25, 27-25, 25-18, 25-18 win at Bren Events Center in Irvine, Calif.

Freshman Louis Sakanoko led the turnaround with a match-high 16 kills and the Rainbow Warriors (21-5, 4-4 Big West ) held UC Irvine to a.146 hitting percentage to earn their first win over a top-15 opponent since losing Spyros Chakas to a season-ending injury last month.

UC Irvine (17-8, 6-2 ) clinched one of the top two seeds in the Big West Tournament with Long Beach State by virtue of tiebreakers due to winning the first set, but Hawaii looked like the team to beat after holding the Anteaters to a negative hitting percentage in a dominating final two sets.

"Watching the film and just kind of going through the numbers, we weren't that far off, which we've been saying, " Wade said. "We're still making more errors than we really want to, but we figured if we could just cut it down a little, we'll start winning some of those sets we were getting like 21 or 22 points."

Alaka'i Todd added 12 kills with two of his biggest coming on back-to-back points to end the second set in UH's favor.

Sakanoko kept UH's first set point alive with a dig off of his foot that gave Tread Rosenthal a chance to set Todd off the right side, who found the other side of the court to even up the match.

Hawaii then poured it on the rest of the way hitting.423 with five of its 12 blocks in the third set.

UCI, which hit.000 in the third set, hit negative in the fourth set while UH closed it out hitting.526.

Kevin Kauling had a walk-off ace called back after a UC Irvine challenge on the first match point, but junior outside hitter Hilir Henno hit it out on the next point to help UH snap a three-match losing streak on the road.

Henno, who hit.679 with 20 kills in Friday's sweep and had 36 kills with a.412 hitting percentage in a five-set loss to UH last month in the Outrigger Invitational, finished with 13 kills in 48 swings and a.104 hitting percentage.

"He scores in a variety of ways and it's a lot harder than it looks, especially the slow ones, and he's really good at it, " Wade said. "It was the matchup. Tread on him and Tread let a couple go early, but then he just started getting really aggressive and you've got to go over on it fast. Tread is a big dude and he kind of got in (Henno's ) head a little bit too."

Rosenthal had a match-high 47 assists and five kills in 10 swings and was in on five of Hawaii's 12 blocks.

Sophomore Kurt Nusterer had seven kills and seven block assists and Guilherme Voss had eight kills and three block assists. Both starting middles hit over.500 for UH, which hit.362 as a team.

Junior Keoni Thiim, starting his second straight match at outside hitter after senior Chaz Galloway had started the previous four, hit.316 with eight kills and led Hawaii with 12 digs. Rosenthal added nine digs and Sakanoko chipped in eight.

UH had six players with at least five kills.

"I think some of it is just a level of pride, " Wade said of the turnaround. "The guys have worked hard for a long time and wanted to show that we can play at a higher level than we have been. It really was the first time in a few weeks where we hit for a pretty good number and defended well and it was good to see."

Hawaii closes the regular season with two matches Friday and Saturday at No. 13 UC San Diego, which lost on Friday to UC Santa Barbara, which earned its first conference win of the season.

UH needs to beat the Tritons once to clinch the No. 3 seed in the BWC Tournament, which begins a week from Thursday at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center.

Hawaii and UC Irvine have each won six of the 12 sets they have played against each other this season. UH is 4-3 on the road this season and 17-2 at home.