The University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team was in the match it wanted to be in during the 2019 season, but ultimately fell short.
The Rainbow Warriors lost at Long Beach State in four sets in the NCAA Championship game on May 4. This year’s team is ranked No. 1 in the AVCA preseason poll. As the ‘Bows begin the year with a handful of returning contributors from last season’s team, the goal for this year is to finish what last year’s team started.
“I wouldn’t say closer, we’re just a different vibe. Still the same competitive spirit kind of,” senior middle blocker Patrick Gasman said. “People ask me all the time, ‘What’s this season going to be like?’ We’re just going to win one more game. That’s it.”
The 2020 team begins its season on Friday night against Charleston at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Although 2019 was a remarkable season for Hawaii by all accounts, it ended with unfinished business. The ‘Bows started 2019 by winning their first 25 matches, including an NCAA record 74 consecutive sets.
However, UH ran into the buzzsaw of TJ Defalco and 2018 national champion Long Beach State. Although the ‘Bows beat The Beach in front of a sold out SSC on April 20 for the Big West title, LBSU won the season series 3-1, including the national championship game. The Rainbow Warriors finished at 28-3 and national runners-up.
Gone is Defalco, who exhausted his eligibility last spring. For Hawaii, the ‘Bows must replace four-year starter Stijn van Tilburg at outside hitter, as well as setter Joe Worlsey. Both were AVCA first-team All-Americans in 2019, with van Tilburg making his third straight appearance on the first team.
This year’s Rainbow Warriors still return a stacked amount of talent, led by senior opposite Rado Parapunov, another AVCA first-team All-American in 2019. He enters 2020 as a prime candidate for national Player of the Year. Libero Gage Worlsey (Joe’s younger brother) returns for his junior season. As a sophomore, he was also an AVCA first-team All-American.
Also returning for the ‘Bows are Gasman and Colton Cowell. As a junior in 2019, Cowell started 28 of his 29 matches at outside hitter. Seven newcomers also enter the fold, with six of those being freshman. How the new players fit within the team structure will be key.
“I’d say right now we’re probably a little more productive than efficient and really it’s the combination of being really productive and being efficient,” head coach Charlie Wade said. “It’s allowed us to be the best and ultimately we’ll have to work on that efficiency to be the best team at the end.”
As the top team in both the preseason AVCA and Big West Conference polls, Hawaii is where it wants to be to begin the 2020 season. For a program that doesn’t have a national title to its name but has come close numerous times, all that matters is where it will be at the end of it.