By Cindy Luis
No matter how high the stakes, It’s still a game.
It’s meant to be fun.
And when it’s coming easy — almost too easy — it’s hard not to laugh when things are going so right.
That top-ranked Hawai’i was able to shake off one of its worst serving performances in recent memory … can you say nine serves errors in Set 1 against No. 6 Ball State … was enjoyable on many fronts. And that junior hitter Dimitrious Mouchlias shook off Thursday’s sub-par performance overall that carried over to his serving game early Friday brought smiles all around after the Warriors pulled out a 23-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-18 nonconference volleyball victory at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center.
Mouchlias, with four errors in seven attempts through Set 2, turned it around after the first 63 minutes of the 132-minute match. The Greek national had a career-high six aces — four coming in Set 3 — in addition to 13 kills to cap a night that opened with the Warriors unfurling its 2022 NCAA banner.
“Dimi probably had the worst serving night in the beginning then the best,” UH senior setter Jakob Thelle said. “Serving defines the game. It’s the one part of the game that you can control.”
Hawai’i (2-0) took control after coming out of the locker room and the match tied at 1-1. A turnstile crowd of 6,148 (6,646) watched the Warriors find their rhythm and Thelle continue to find his favorite targets in his Greek pillars on the pins: Mouchlias and junior hitter Spyros Chakas (22 kills). Junior hitter Chaz Galloway added 12 kills and junior libero Brett Sheward added a career-high 17 digs in the second quality win of the early season over Ball State (0-2).
The Cardinals, preseason pick to win the MIVA, again were led by hitter Kaleb Jenness, playing as a graduate student, who had a team-high 15 kills. Sophomore hitter Tinaishe Nadavazocheva, playing his first collegiate season, continued to impress with his raw athleticism, finishing with 11 kills.
The Warriors contained Jenness better than they had in their previous four meetings, including Thursday’s season-opener where he had 18 kills and hit .385. Jenness hit .189 Friday with eight errors, the most resounding being a solo stuff by Hawai’i junior middle Cole Hogland that gave the Warriors match point at 24-17.
“I think (Jenness) was productive but not as efficient tonight,” Hawai’i coach Charlie Wade said. “Ball State is a good team for sure. They have two guys who can really dominate (Jenness and Nadavazocheva). It’s hard to stop when they’re going over the block.
“It’s pretty much January volleyball, no one is playing at mid-season form. We didn’t play well but we played good enough. It’s nice to see we can make that adjustment (on serving) and when you have multiple guys in the lineup who can put together serving runs, it’s an advantage.”
Set 1 was an example of Hawai’i being unable to do that. The Warriors made the most of their opportunities with 17 kills to the Cardinals’ 10 and “we made 15 errors to their six and it’s still deuce (a two-point game),” Wade said. “We know we’re good servers but they’ve got to get it in.”
“I know I can serve well,” he said. “It was finding that rhythm. I did. It felt great, felt calm.”
And when the passing settled down, so did the offense, with Thelle able to utilize a potent multi-prong offense. The Norwegian national can be very offensive minding but he only had one hitting attempt Friday, none on Thursday.
Still the threat was there, which led to one of the “try not to laugh” moments.
At 22-17 in Set 4, Thelle went up, taking the Ball State blockers with him as it appeared he would attack the ball. Instead he flipped to on the right side to the flying Mouchlias for a wide-open shot.
Call it what you want. Nobody up. The perfect fake.
Or, as Thelle said, “it’s supposed to be fun out there.”
Hawai’i closes out its opening homestand with Saint Francis on Wednesday and Friday. Both matches are scheduled for 7. p.m.
The Warriors then have a five-match road trip over three weeks: At Queens, Belmont Abbey and Barton from Jan. 25 through Jan 28, all in North Carolina, then to Stanford Feb. 10-11.
Note: The Warriors’ 23 service errors were the most by a UH since 24 April 18, 2015 at BYU. It was also the most in a home match since April 4, 2014, also 24 against BYU.