UH men’s volleyball saves best for last as yearslong journey comes full circle


Hawaii team members hold the trophy after Hawaii defeated BYU in the final of the NCAA men’s volleyball tournament Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

As members of the University of Hawaii men’s volleyball team stormed the Covelli Center court after sweeping rival BYU in the NCAA championship match for its first title in program history, the moment served as a coronation years in the making.

For Hawaii head coach Charlie Wade, it’s his first championship after a total of more than two decades coaching both the men’s and women’s programs in multiple roles at UH. The last Hawaii team to win an NCAA championship prior to Saturday was the 1987 women’s volleyball team.

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“A long time coming. A lot of hard work. We are supported at a level at our community that college athletes don’t typically see,” Wade said afterwards during the post-match press conference. “Not only is this win for Hawaii, but it’s because of the fans of Hawaii. What they do for us every year, no matter if we’re good or not, it’s just unbelievable and this run that this group has been on, just the support and the mana, the energy that the fans bring to us, it’s an unbelievable feeling. It really has been for us a motivating factor for years and this is just the culmination of a lot of hard work by some really special young men and built on the backs of some really good players in the program for a long time. Just really appreciative for everyone that’s helped us get to this point and super proud of these guys. It was a great night for us.

“We’ve been close for a long time, so I don’t think a championship or this championship completely defines us. It’s certainly a great achievement and just staying focused on the path that got us to this point. Putting out championship-caliber teams, developing young men that our community is proud of. They’re excellent students, they respect each other, they respect their opponents. That’s just what we do. We keep building on this and it was part of the plan from the beginning and that’s not changing.”

As for the team’s players, standouts such as Rado Parapunov, Colton Cowell and Patrick Gasman, who all didn’t have to return for the 2021 season but did, the championship payoff could not be sweeter.

“Stepping on that court tonight, I don’t really think I played my best game but I just had so much support, my team played incredibly. Everything goes to them,” Cowell said. “Everything goes to my coaching staff and those that helped us win tonight.”

“You gotta realize everything we’ve done here, we’re probably at the bottom of the list. The boosters, the school, the state, families are ahead in the list of people we did it for,” Parapunov added. “For me, that championship, that road started in September 2016. That’s when I got here. For Colton, it started in 2015.”

Hawaii’s 2021 national championship was a moment the Rainbow Warriors have been groomed for over the last two years. A four-set loss to Long Beach State in the 2019 national championship match at the Walter Pyramid stung the ‘Bows deeply. With memories of that particular defeat in mind, members of the 2020 and 2021 teams were fueled endlessly. On Saturday, the team made sure it wouldn’t feel that way at season’s end again, hitting at a .381 clip in the most lopsided title match victory in the rally scoring era.

“The championship in 2019 taught us the lingering emotion of what it felt like to lose the biggest match that we’ve played in,” Cowell said. “That’s just another chip on the shoulder that was left with this team. We’ve been working to be in the position for the last two years. For it to come full circle is really special and I don’t think there’s a team that’s more deserving.”

To program mainstays in Parapunov, Cowell and Gasman, who put their professional careers on hold in pursuit of NCAA gold in the midst of a global pandemic, the risk paid off. In an unprecedented season that nobody truly knew how it would unfold, there was zero doubt in the end.

“It doesn’t matter if you play well or not. This thing right here, we got it,” Parapunov said as he motioned to the NCAA trophy.

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