When the University of Hawaii and BYU men’s volleyball teams split a weekend series at the Stan Sheriff Center last March, each team walked away with a sense that they’d see each other on the court again soon.
Although another meeting between the two programs didn’t materialize for another 14 months, the Rainbow Warriors and Cougars are set to meet in the 2021 national title match, which begins at 2 p.m. HST on ESPNU in Columbus, Ohio. It a matchup that members of both sides felt they were destined for.
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“I think it’s been pretty obvious that we’ve been the two best teams for the last two years so it is fitting that we’re getting a chance to play again for the championship. I don’t think either program would have taken for granted to get this far because there’s so many good teams,” Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said. “But I think we’ve been the two best and it’s nice that we’re gonna get a chance to play each other for the title.”
Both programs enter Saturday with history on the line. Despite winning the 2002 national championship match, Hawaii was stripped of the title after Costas Theocharidis was ruled ineligible. To this day, the UH men’s volleyball program does not have a program to its name. The Cougars, who have three national championships, have not won it all since 2004.
Both teams return every major contributor from last season, a true rarity in college sports. When the NCAA granted athletes an extra year of eligibility, seniors from both teams chose to exercise that option. The two most recent AVCA Players of the Year in Rado Parapunov (Hawaii) and Gabi Garcia Fernandez (BYU) will compete on opposite sides on Saturday. Both are listed by their respective schools as seniors.
“I think deep down, we were aware that when it came down to these final matches, there’s a high likelihood that we’d end up playing them and I think we’re really excited to test ourselves against them once more,” said Hawaii’s Colton Cowell, a senior on his sixth year of college eligibility.
“We know that the entire Warrior nation and the state of Hawaii is supporting us and I think we’re just really excited to go play and know that Hawaii is behind us.”
Despite all the uncertainty that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, including players not knowing if they’d be able to return for the 2021 season, the stars have aligned for the Cougars and ‘Bows, who are 1-1 against each other over the last two years. The tiebreaker just so happens to be on the biggest stage college men’s volleyball has to offer.
“They’re a great team, a remarkable group of guys, tough guys and yeah, now here we are. Those were the two last matches we play last year and both teams have put together a great season and prepared their guys well and you can see that. On both sides of the net, those guys are both chomping at the bit to just get another opportunity to play, and so here we are,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “It’s pretty exciting and we’re happy to be a part of it and look forward to competing against those guys.”