Thelle, Warriors ready for CSUN

Hawai'i athletics photo

Maybe it’s a joke.

Maybe it’s not.

Either way, the “deal” between two of Hawai’i’s European players is effective.

All-American opposite Rado Parapunov, he of the “just give me the ball” mindset, is willing to share sets with sophomore setter Jakob Thelle. But there is a bit of a quid pro quo.

“I say to Rado, ‘Give me one ball and I’ll give you 10 balls,” Thelle, from Norway, said of his Bulgarian teammate.”We have a lot of great hitters and, as a setter, that is the focus. I take satisfaction in putting my players in the position to be successful.

“But sometimes Gage (libero Worsley) will say he is going to set me. Or Rado says it. It’s something (the other team) haven’t seen too much and, being a lefty, it’s proves to be effective on two (attacking on the second contact).”

The 6-foot-6 Thelle is just another weapon in the already potent Warrior attack. Hawai’i leads the country in kills per set (13.91) and hitting percentage (3.86), as well as blocks (2.98 b/s).

The Warriors also are No. 2 in assists per set, second to Big West rival UC Santa Barbara (12.71-12.69) with Thelle No. 3 nationally (10.59 a/s).

“I think ‘Jake’ has more of a command of the offense than last year,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade said during Tuesday’s Zoom call with the media. “Sometimes when you’re the young guy you have veterans telling you what to do. I think he’s done a better job at telling everyone what the plan is.”

The plan this week is the same as it has been all season for No. 1 Hawai’i (11-0, 9-0 Big West). The Warriors head out for the second road trip of the year and will take on CSUN (1-5, 1-5 Big West) Friday and Saturday in Northridge, Calif.

The last time Hawaii was there, a year ago last March, it ended up being the last trip of the 2020 season. The Warriors were soon back on a plane, knowing that COVID had shut down their sport, as well as other sports around the country.

Still fresh in Wade’s mind is the last two times Hawai’i actually played in the Matadome. Four of the current Warriors also were on the court — Colton Cowell, Patrick Gasman, Rado Parapunov, Gage Worsley — where then-No. 3 Hawai’i suffered stunning back-to-back straight-set losses to the 10th-ranked Matadors.

“Losing to them twice really hurt us, probably kept us out of the NCAA tournament,” Wade said.

(Despite finishing second in the conference, handing Long Beach State its only loss of an NCAA title campaign, defeating UC Irvine in the conference tournament semifinals and holding 2-1 edge head-to-head with the Anteaters, the Warriors were passed over for an at-large bid in favor of UCI).

Thelle was not on the team in 2018 but he knows the importance of every win. And how Hawai’i does not want to leave its postseason fate in the hands of a selection committee.

“It’s a new week with two important games that we have to win,” Thelle said. “We keep the same focus and the same goals. To win the Big West and win the national championship.”

Hawai’i is coming off two big wins over Long Beach State last week, including Saturday’s marathon five-setter. The Warriors were without super-senior Colton Cowell, who injured his ankle during warmups prior to Friday’s match with Beach.

Wade said Cowell did not fully participate in Monday’s practice but “hopefully he’ll be ready to go Friday,” Wade said.

Against Beach on Saturday, Thelle had a career-high 59 assists. He also had four kills with no errors on five swings, including the match-ender.

“Jake has a unique skill set,” Wade said. “He’s got the green light (to attack). Some of it is Gage telling him what to do, live in the moment, what the blockers are doing, And (Thelle) senses it, too. The blockers take a step towards (All-American middle) Pat Gasman. It leaves (Thelle) pretty undefended.”

Thelle has chosen wisely, with 26 kills and four errors on 49 attempts, hitting .449. He’s never had more than one error in a match, with a career-high seven kills with no errors on nine swings on March 27 against UC San Diego.

After this week, Hawai’i closes out the regular season at home with two matches against UC Irvine Aprilf 16-17. The Warriors remain at home the following week, hosting the Big West tournament April 22-24.

“It’s the fastest season I’ve every played,” said Thelle, a member of the Norwegian national teams since 2017.”We can’t put our foot off the gas pedal now.”

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