Jan. 24—When middle blocker Kurt Nusterer decided to play volleyball at the University of Hawaii, he never thought about the idea of getting to play back home in Indiana.
It was a surprise when the team traveled to play Ball State twice two years ago, but he was redshirting his freshman season and never got a chance to play.
Fortunately for him, the Rainbow Warriors are making another trip to his home state this week, beginning with two matches at Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday and Friday before closing the week with a rematch at Ball State on Sunday.
UH lost both road matches at the Cardinals two years ago but has since beaten Ball State three times, including in the national semifinals in five sets in 2022.
Winning in that arena in Muncie, Ind., is definitely on the minds of the players who were on that trip two years ago.
"Last time we went and played Ball State we were missing four guys and we lost twice, so hoping to rewrite the script a little bit," Nusterer said Monday. "They introduce the Ball State team and the announcer says, 'Welcome to Muncie, Indiana, the volleyball capital of the world.' Living here playing in the Stan with our amazing community, I always look forward to hearing that."
Saying he's excited to be back home, Nusterer is also thrilled with his role on the team as one of the two starting middles.
Last year, he was called on at certain times to fill in for Cole Hogland. This season, as a starter next to Guilherme Voss, he feels a lot more weight on his shoulders.
"I'm definitely more comfortable than I was at this time last year. With the new role, there's also a little bit of a higher sense of urgency," Nusterer said. "Now that there's some expectations and I sort of have to carry a bit of a load — I'm very grateful that I have that on my shoulders — but it's a different mind state. I have my responsibility and a commitment to the six other guys I'm playing with and to everyone else in the gym working with us and to the fans and our whole community."
Nusterer is one of three players who have appeared in every set this season for Hawaii (3-1), which dropped a spot to No. 4 in this week's AVCA/NVA National Collegiate Men's Volleyball Poll after Ohio State beat defending national champion UCLA in five sets to jump three spots to No. 1.
Nusterer has hit .400 or better in all but one match, including a career-high eight kills in 11 swings in UH's lone loss, to Loyola Chicago.
It's also a homecoming for coach Charlie Wade, who is originally from Warsaw, Ind., roughly a two-hour drive north of Indianapolis.
The only concern for him this trip is the team he coaches.
"Pretty much it's just about volleyball at this time of year," Wade said. "It is a business trip and a chance to play some good teams, some well-established programs on their home court."
Hawaii hasn't played since sweeping Emmanuel University twice in three days two weeks ago.
Freshman Louis Sakanoko, who played the first five sets of his Rainbow Warriors career, had 12 aces, including a school-record-tying nine in a match that went only three sets.
The possibility of beginning a match with Sakanoko and Keoni Thiim as the first two servers is an intriguing idea that benefits the entire team.
"The lineup that we threw out there (against Emmanuel) you might be able to win at (serving) 85% in-bounds with that much point-scoring on the floor at one time. That's kind of where we're at with it," Wade said. "With this many guys in the lineup that can score, it almost helps everybody be a little more patient. It's not like Spyros (Chakas) has to go out and ramp it up. He's got a number of guys in the lineup around him."
Chakas, whose team-leading 4.23 kills per set is more than double the next guy, needs five aces to tie Naveh Milo for 10th on the UH career aces list.
Purdue Fort Wayne (4-1) is undefeated at home this season. Hawaii, which has won 12 straight on the road, hasn't lost to an unranked opponent away from home since 2018.
After this week, UH will play its next 11 matches over six weeks at home.
Rainbow Warrior Volleyball
At Gates Sports Center, Fort Wayne, Ind.
>> Who: No. 4 Hawaii (3-1) vs. Purdue Fort Wayne (4-1)
>> When: Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m.
>> Streaming: ESPN+
>> Radio: 1420-AM / 92.7 FM