Big win over UCLA for No. 1 Hawai’i heading into Big West play

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By Cindy Luis

Just like the old days.

Hawai’i vs. UCLA. Packed arenas. The two top-ranked teams going at it.

Nearly 30 years later, little has changed.

Saturday night was so reminiscent of the mid-90s where the Warriors and Bruins sold out the then-Special Events Arena twice in 1996 and once in 1997. Of the 11 previous sellouts in Hawai’i’s history, UCLA had been a part of three.

Make that four.

The Warriors’ first sellout since BYU on March 6, 2020 — the last match before COVID shut down collegiate athletics — was as good as advertised. Led by junior opposite Dimitrios Mouchlias’ season-high 22 kills and big serves and even bigger blocks that showed up at the right time, No. 1 Hawai’i turned back No. 2 UCLA, 29-27, 21-25, 25-22, 28-26 in the finale of the 27th Outrigger Invitational men’s volleyball tournament.

Mouchlias, the tournament’s most outstanding player, was joined on the all-tournament team by senior setter Jakob Thelle and junior opposite Spyros Chakas as Hawai’i (17-1) rebounded from its first loss of the season, that a 3-1 defeat by No. 3 Penn State. The Nittany Lions (17-2) claimed their third tournament championship based on the tie-breaking formula of win-loss set percentage. That tie-breaker gave Hawai’i the runner-up trophy with UCLA third and Purdue Fort Wayne (12-8), going winless over the three days, fourth.

Also named to the all-tournament team were UCLA’s Ido David and Merrick McHenry, and Penn State’s Ryan Merk and Michal Kowal.

“I thought the atmosphere was great,” said UCLA coach John Speraw, who played in the inaugural Outrigger in 1995 from the Bruins. “I heard (before the match) that it was a sellout and that made me feel good. Seems like the old days when Hawai’i and UCLA were playing in front of sold-out crowds.

“It’s great for the sport.”

It was a great display of high-quality volleyball over 2 hours and 43 minutes enjoyed by a turnstile crowd of 9,300-plus. The vocal crowd saw the Warriors use two late rallies at the ends of Sets 1 and 4.

In the opener, Hawai’i trailed 23-20 but took set point behind the serving of junior middle Guilherme Voss. The Warriors would need another three before a Bruin service error — one of their 25 — and Mouchlias’ ninth kill ended it.

The Bruins rallied to even the match when leading Set 2 the entire way. The Warriors took the lead for good in Set 3 at 3-2 and, in Set 4, held off one set point at 24-23 before taking their first lead at 26-25 on a kill by Mouchlias.

UCLA tied it at 26 only to have Hawai’i use a hitting error by Ethan Champlin and then a stuff block of Champlin by Thelle and freshman middle Kurt Nusterer to finish the improbable comeback.

UCLA had four players with 10 or more kills, led by Ido’s 21. Freshman Zach Rama, inserted last in Set 3 and finishing the match, added 12, McHenry 11 and Champlin 10.

UH libero Brett Sheward had 10 of the Warriors’ 34 digs and Voss was in on six of the team’s 9.5 blocks.

Serving was the different, the Bruins with 25 errors and six aces, the Warriors with 15 errors and five aces.

“Obviously we played a lot better than (Friday), we didn’t play well in any phase,” UH coach Charlie Wade said. “Thought we got better as the night went on and beat a really good team.”

Hawai’i opens up Big West play with No. 4 Long Beach State (11-2, 2-0 BWC) Friday and Saturday at the SSC.