Hawaii proves to be too much for BYU, sweeping Cougars for national title

BYU men’s volleyball makes fourth trip to NCAA title match since 2013, but is unable to bring home the championship.

(David Dermer | AP) BYU's Gabi Garcia Fernandez (5) hits the ball as Hawaii's Patrick Gasman (15) and Jakob Thelle (10) go for a block during the NCAA men's volleyball championship match Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Hawaii swept BYU to win the title.

Two years in the making, and BYU and Hawaii finally got their answer. Unfortunately for the Cougars, it wasn’t one they liked.

The Rainbow Warriors walked out of Saturday’s NCAA championship match in Columbus, Ohio, with the national title; top-seeded Hawaii swept second-seeded BYU.

“Hats off to University of Hawaii, all of their players and staff, for coming through in this national championship,” said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. “... [I’m] proud of our guys. Super, super lucky to be a part of their group and their run.”

The Cougars and Rainbow Warriors were on track to meet in the title match last year, but the pandemic forced the 2020 season to come to an end early.

While the first set was super close at the start, the game started getting away from the Cougars toward the end. The difference? Hitting.

After the Cougars took a 19-18 lead, the Rainbow Warriors made three kills and forced two BYU attacking errors for a 23-18 advantage.

In that first set, BYU was held to .227 hitting, getting only nine kills, while Hawaii hit .400 and made 17 kills.

With a dominating attack, the Rainbow Warriors were able to close out the opening set 25-21.

“They were a little more composed from the service line and in reception,” Olmstead said. “For some reason, we just seemed to get a little rattled. ... Our tentativeness passing led us to being tentative at the net attacking in a handful of situations.”

Hawaii was quicker to get momentum in the second set. The Rainbow Warriors went on a 6-0 run for a 16-8 advantage, forcing BYU to use up both of its timeouts midway through the set.

Hawaii’s Rado Parapunov later made three consecutive aces to put the set out of reach, even though the Cougars tried to inch back. The Rainbow Warriors went on to win the second set 25-19.

By the third set, BYU looked frazzled and couldn’t recoup, as the Cougars fell 25-16.

Ultimately, senior Wil Stanley said there wasn’t anything Hawaii did that surprised them — they just outplayed the Cougars.

“I don’t think they surprised us at all,” Stanley said “I think they played their game and they played the way they do. They were the better team tonight. Those guys, they took care of business. We tried to do what we could, we played our game as well, but they had a better night tonight.”

BYU was looking for its first national title since 2004. It was the Cougars’ fourth trip to the title match since 2013, but they were unable to take down Hawaii.

Saturday’s match was the Rainbow Warriors’ fourth national championship match appearance and second straight. Hawaii won and later vacated the 2002 title.

Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said the win was both for the fans of Hawaii and because of the fans of Hawaii.

“This is just a culmination of a lot of hard work by some really special young men, and built on the backs of a lot of really good players in the program for a long time,” Wade said.

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