By Cindy Luis
It was the “Senior Show” that played out successfully for No. 1 Hawaii on Saturday night. Led by senior opposite Rado Parapunov’s 13 kills and five aces, and two tone-setting aces early by senior middle Patrick Gasman, the Warriors completed a historic night with a 25-17, 25-18, 25-13 sweep of unranked UC Irvine.
Hawai’i finished the regular season at 15-0, undefeated for the first time in program history. The Warriors also finished with the first unbeaten campaign in the three-year history of the Big West, their 10-0 mark also their third overall perfect conference season (1996 MPSF and 1980 WCVC).
The senior night festivities lasted almost as long as the 99-minute match with video tributes for the six seniors from family members, all of whom were unable to attend due to COVID restrictions. The athletic department tried to keep it as traditional as possible, as did fans who dropped off more lei than anticipated earlier Saturday.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Gasman, in the program for six years. “There were a lot more (lei) than we thought there would be. There was so much love and aloha.
“I think it speaks to the impact we’ve had on the community.”
The Warriors reciprocated by running its home conference winning streak to 11 when defeating UCI for a ninth time in a row. The Anteaters (2-13, 2-8) will remain in Honolulu and return to the arena Thursday as the sixth seed in the Big West Tournament.
UCI will face third-seeded Long Beach State in the 4:30 p.m. quarterfinal. The second quarterfinal has fourth-seeded UC San Diego taking on fifth-seeded CSUN at 7 p.m.
Joel Schneidmiller and Sani Franciso both had nine kills for the Anteaters.
Parapunov tied his career high with his five aces, all coming in a 6-0 run in Set 3 that put Hawaii up 12-3. He has 109, putting him at No. 4 on the UH all-time list.
“I think it was just letting all the emotions go,” Parapunov said. “It was like a green light and whatever happens happens. And that’s what happened.”
Parapunov had been struggling at the service line for the past couple of weeks. Saturday night, it was as if he took out all his frustrations against the UCI serve-receive.
“We see it all the time in practice,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade said. “Tonight was a good (serving) one with Pat early and Rado late.
“You get Jake (setter Jakob Thelle), Pat, Colton (Cowell) and Rado (serving) in a row and no question it puts pressure on teams.
“We were pretty dialed in tonight, except for the lapse at the end of Set 1. The guys are feeling pretty good right now. It’s a (conference) title. It’s not THE (NCAA) title. No one wants this more than we do.”
Cowell finished with eight kills and, as happened on Friday, the match-ender.
“Tonight was so much fun,” he said. “It was a very special night.
“I can’t wait to get back in the gym and start preparing for the tournament,”
Freshman hitter Chaz Galloway, who missed Friday due to illness, returned to the starting lineup for six kills with no errors on 13 swings.
Now about that lapse in Set 1.
Things were going oh so well. The Warriors had 6.5 blocks — they had five total on Friday — and three aces — two by Gasman— and were siding out at 90 percent when rolling to leads of 13-5, 22-9 and set point at 24-11.
And there Hawai’i stayed … for a while. Scott Stadick teed off from the service line and the Warriors had four consecutive hitting errors, after having just one before that. At 24-17, Schneidmiller hit long to finally end Set 1.