UC Irvine ends Hawaii's run of Big West men's volleyball titles

Apr. 20—Six weeks after staring across the net and seeing Hawaii's best player, Spyros Chakas, go down with a season-ending injury on match point, the Anteaters put Hawaii's 2024 campaign away for good.

In its two matches against Hawaii in SimpliFi Arena this season, UC Irvine went 1-1, and yet no matter the result, handed the Rainbow Warriors the two most devastating blows to their season.

Six weeks after staring across the net and seeing Hawaii's best player, Spyros Chakas, go down with a season-ending injury on match point, the Anteaters put Hawaii's 2024 campaign away for good in a 26-24, 36-34, 25-15 heartbreaker for the home team in the semifinals of the Outrigger Big West Men's Volleyball Championship on Friday night.

A Stan Sheriff Center crowd of 6, 251, many of whom sat in stunned silence when Chakas fell awkwardly just before UH won the Outrigger Invitational in the first weekend of March, left the arena with a similar feeling after watching Hawaii's run of four consecutive trips to the NCAA national final come to a frustrating end.

Hawaii lost each of the first two sets in extras and had nine set points it failed to convert in the second set alone. UC Irvine closed out the sweep with junior outside hitter Hilir Henno his dominant self once again with 24 kills on 45 swings to propel the Anteaters into tonight's tournament final against Long Beach State.

"We were hitting.400 after four sets and down 2-0, " Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said. "High-level stuff. We were playing pretty good. A play here, a play there, you know, but our serving wasn't up to our standards and that is something that has defined us for years."

With UCLA and Grand Canyon playing today in the MPSF tournament final, the top four teams in the country in the AVCA rankings are playing for their conference titles.

That leaves out No. 5 Hawaii for an at-large berth. UH had a chance, if it reached tonight's BWC title match, to make a claim for the spot with what would have been a third win against UC Irvine (19-9 ). Instead it's the 200th career victory for UC Irvine coach David Kniffin.

"The Big West has some really good volleyball teams. For me, that Hawaii team is a tournament-worthy team for the NCAA, " Kniffin said. "For us to come out with a win, obviously, in this environment is a big deal."

Freshman Louis Sakanoko had a team-high 12 kills and junior Keoni Thiim added 11 kills and eight digs.

Sophomore Kurt Nusterer led the charge early for Hawaii and combined with fellow middle Guilherme Voss for 17 kills on 28 swings. UH went to the middles often early on, but the Anteaters eventually adjusted and closed out the match with a dominant third set.

"Our middle, like it or not, is a hard position to play when you are paired up with such a new relationship, " said Voss, referencing 17-year-old freshman setter Tread Rosenthal. "I know that we would have been a great duo if we had more time to work, unfortunately I also did not have enough time this year to put time in the gym and get the reps I needed."

Hawaii started the season with a bunch of questions as it trotted out four new starters but won 17 of its first 18 matches to ascend to the No. 1 ranking when Chakas went down with an injury.

UH went 6-6 the rest of the way playing a mixed bag of volleyball.

Hawaii played one of its better matches in the first two sets against the Anteaters. A win in either set may have changed the outcome, but not converting nine set points in the second set proved to be too difficult to overcome.

UH led 24-21 when a Sakanoko serving error led to four straight UCI points to make it 25-24 Anteaters.

The lead changed hands six more times, with UCI leading 35-34 when Henno's 24th swing in the set came to both Chaz Galloway and Sakanoko, who gave way to each other, allowing the ball to fall to the floor for Henno's 13th kill of the set that finally ended it after 70 combined points.

"We knew they were going to set No. 20 a lot and they did, " Wade said. "The level of play in the Big West since its inception has been really, really impressive. Watching Henno out there tonight, National Player of the Year candidate, and if he's not the leader, I don't know who is."

UH never got to set point in the first set, but did lead 23-22 after Nusterer provided a blistering start to the game with a kill followed by a six-point service run to give UH an early 7-1 lead.

Voss had three kills and Nusterer cranked two aces during the seven-point run before the Anteaters started chipping away.

Senior Akhil Tangutur, who subbed into the game for Noah Flexen with UCI trailing 6-1, had four kills and an ace to lead UCI's charge back to take the opening set.

Henno's seventh kill gave the Anteaters set point at 24-23, prompting a UH timeout.

Thiim answered with a kill and Hawaii had opportunities digging up Henno's next two kill attempts, but couldn't do anything with them.

Connor Campbell solo blocked Nusterer in the middle for a second set point and Henno and Maxim Grigoriev teamed up on a block of Todd to allow UCI to escape with the set.

"This was our objective to come out with a win tonight, " Kniffin said. "There were errors that kept us both in it. We both made errors late. Sometimes it's one touch that can make all of the difference."

No. 1 Long Beach State 3, No. 5 Cal State Northridge 1 Clarke Godbold had a team-high 18 kills, with his last coming to start a match-ending 3-0 run to give the Beach a 25-23, 22-25, 25-20, 25-22 win over the Matadors in the first semifinal on Friday.

With the pro-UH crowd filing in rooting for CSUN, Long Beach State (24-2 ) took the final two sets after nearly falling into a 2-0 hole.

CSUN hit.382 during the second set it won and was up 23-21 in the first set before giving up four straight points.

Sotiris Siapanis, who finished with 13 kills and six digs, served the final three points, with one of his two aces giving the Beach set point at 24-23.

Aidan Knipe and Simon Torwie, who leads the nation in blocks per set, teamed up on one for set point which proved even more important after the Matadors won the second set.

Opposite Jalen Phillips finished with a match-high 19 kills and Griffin Walters and Kyle Hobus had 13 apiece for CSUN (13-16 ).

LBSU outblocked CSUN 11-3.5. Middle blocker DiAeris McRaven, a Moanalua alumnus, had four kills and four blocks for the Beach.