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person with a volleyball set
Jakob Thelle putting up a set in the semifinal match against Penn State.

The University of Hawaiʻi men’s volleyball team avenged an earlier loss in March, taking down the Penn State Nittany Lions in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in a marathon five sets, 25-20, 25-23, 16-25, 23-25 and 15-10. The Rainbow Warriors improved to 29-2 and Penn State ended its season at 26-4.

four hands across a net with a volleyball
Guilherme Voss attempts a block early in the match against Penn State.

With the win, the Rainbow Warriors are just one match away from becoming the first team in Division I men’s volleyball to win at least three consecutive national championships since UCLA won four in a row from 1981–84. Ironically, it’s the Bruins that won the other semifinal over Long Beach State and will look to prevent UH’s 3-peat. The national title match is on Saturday, May 6 at 11 a.m. HST in EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Virginia. It will be broadcast live on ESPN2 (TV) and ESPN Honolulu (radio).

The ‘Bows were led by AVCA National Player of the Year and two-time Big West Player of the Year Jakob Thelle. The First Team All-American senior setter from Tonsberg, Norway directed the UH offense with 42 assists. First Team All-American and First Team Big West selection Dimitrios Mouchlias led the attack with 25 kills hitting .364.

Honorable Mention All-American and First Team Big West selection Chaz Galloway added 11 kills, and Second Team All-American and First Team Big West selection Spyros Chakas contributed eight kills. First Team All-American and First Team Big West selection Guilherme Voss added six kills and six blocks.

Game script

person jumping hitting a volleyball
Spyros Chakas attempts a serve in the semifinal match against Penn State.

Both teams opened the match neck and neck, eventually tying at eight after Mouchlias’ third kill early in the first set. The Nittany Lions then rattled off three straight points forcing UH to call a timeout at 12-9. Penn State extended its lead to four at 14-10, before the Rainbow Warriors went on a 6-2 run, capped off by a Voss solo block and a senior outside hitter Kanaʻi Akana ace, forcing the Nittany Lions to call a timeout of their own tied at 16. A Penn State attack error a couple of points later gave UH just its second lead of the set, 18-17. Another kill by Mouchlias and another attack error by the Nittany Lions gave the Rainbow Warriors a 20-17, and UH never looked back taking the opening set, 25-20.

A similar opening sideout battle continued in the second set as UH got out to a slim 3-2 lead on a kill by Mouchlias. A kill by Galloway broke the sideout streak and another kill by Mouchlias helped the Rainbow Warriors double up the Nittany Lions at 6-3. Penn State went on a run of its own, tying the set up at eight. No team led by more than two points, eventually becoming deadlocked again at 17. Back to back kills by Galloway and Chakas gave UH a 20-18 lead, forcing the Nittany Lions to call a timeout. The Rainbow Warriors held on to their lead, winning the second set on a Penn State service error, 25-23.

people in jerseys celebrating
The Rainbow Warriors celebrate a point against Penn State in the national semifinals.

UH got out to a quick 4-1 lead in the third set, before the Nittany Lions went on a six-point run to take a 7-4 lead of their own. Penn State increased its lead at 11-7, but a kill by Mouchlias and a Nittany Lions’ service error cut the gap to three. After a kill by Galloway to cut Penn State’s lead to 15-12, the Nittany Lions went on a four-point run to force UH to call a timeout. Penn State surged toward the end of the set, taking the third 25-16.

Both teams were deadlocked at three to open the fourth set, before the Rainbow Warriors went on a four-point run to leap ahead 7-3, forcing Penn State to call a timeout. A few points later, a pair of hitting errors by UH narrowed its lead to two. Two kills and another UH hitting error tied the set at 11, leading to a Rainbow Warrior timeout. A Penn State ace capped off a six-point run by the Nittany Lions, taking a 14-11 lead. After a sideout, UH went on a three-point run to tie it at 15. After Penn State took a 20-18 lead, the Rainbow Warriors picked up three straight points to take a slim 21-20 lead. Penn State then regained a 23-22 lead, before the Nittany Lions held on to take the fourth set, 25-23, and force a deciding fifth and final set.

In the race to 15, the Rainbow Warriors took the first point on a Penn State service error. After a couple of sideout points, UH surged ahead 4-1 on a kill by Chakas. The Rainbow Warriors extended their lead on a kill by Galloway, 9-4. While the Nittany Lions held tough, trailing by as little as three at 11-8, UH was just too tough taking the final set on one of Thelle’s two kills in the match, 15-10.

For more, visit the UH Mānoa athletics website.

—By Marc Arakaki

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