The UC Santa Barbara Gauchos may have won a battle, but Hawaiʻi won the war.
The University of Hawaiʻi men’s volleyball team (25-0) saw its NCAA-record 74 sets won streak come to an end on senior night at the hands of third-ranked UCSB. The top-ranked Rainbow Warriors refused to be discouraged though, dispatching the Gauchos in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,300 to earn a four set victory 25-16, 25-21, 23-25, 25-19. The win helped keep the program-record 25 match win streak alive.
“We never talked about the (set streak),” head coach Charlie Wade said. “Obviously you try to win every set. But the set we lost today had our highest hit percentage. We hit .476 but they hit .600. They just played better (that set). We have a really good team and we’re having a really good season. Just glad to get the win tonight.”
Senior outside hitter Stijn van Tilburg led the team with a match-high 22 kills while junior libero Gage Worsley finished with a match-high 11 digs.
“Everybody played great (today),” van Tilburg said. “Just the way Rado was playing, and the way Joe was feeding me (the ball). The pass was working (tonight).”
The first set began favorably for Hawaiʻi as a UCSB service error gave the ‘Bows the first point. Four consecutive points solidified the lead for the Rainbow Warriors, but the Gauchos clawed their way back to a tie with a 5-1 run. Later in the set, UCSB tied the score at 12-12 on a service ace. With van Tilburg’s seven kills leading the way, the ‘Bows went on a dominant 13-4 run to clinch a first set 25-16 victory.
UCSB got on the board first with a quick kill to start the second set, but a 3-0 UH run gave the ‘Bows their first lead of the set. Hawaiʻi held on to the lead as the teams traded scores. Trailing 16-18, the Gauchos tied the set and subsequently retook the lead with a quick 3-0 run. The Rainbow Warriors responded with a clutch 7-2 run to claim the set. Junior opposite Rado Parapunov finished with eight kills in the 25-21 second set victory.
The Gauchos played their best set of the weekend to snap Hawaiʻi’s set win streak. The ‘Bows got the early lead with a kill from van Tilburg, but fell victim to a strong 23-16 UCSB run. With the chants of the crowd behind them, the Rainbow Warriors mounted a furious comeback. A 6-1 UH run cut the deficit down to just one point, but the rally ultimately fell short on a UCSB kill. The 25-23 set loss was Hawaiʻi’s first of the season and snapped a historic 74-set win streak.
The story of set four was stretch runs. After two early UCSB points, the ‘Bows went on a 10-1 run to take a commanding lead. The Gauchos cut into that lead with a 5-0 run of their own, but Hawaiʻi responded with another quick 3-0 run to reestablish the lead. The Gauchos would continue to score, but the Rainbow Warriors had no trouble keeping them at arm’s length for the remainder of the set. van Tilburg and Parapunov finished the set with four kills apiece as Hawaiʻi picked up the 25-19 victory.
The four-set victory moves the ‘Bows to 25-0 on the season. The ‘Bows head out to California for a two-match series against second-ranked Long Beach State before returning to Stan Sheriff Center for the Big West Conference Tournament.
“For us (the preparation) doesn’t change,” Wade said. “We’ve done this from the beginning and that’s why were at this position now. Regardless of the opponent we prepare the same and put equal importance on all of them.”
The season series between Hawaiʻi and Long Beach State begins on April 12 at 4 p.m. HST at the Walter Pyramid.