It is the eve of the NCAA men's volleyball championships and the University of Hawaii is one of just six programs remaining with a chance at claiming a national title.
“To have an opportunity to accomplish the goal we’ve all been striving towards is really uplifting," said sophomore libero Larry 'Tui' Tuileta.
“We’ve believed that we would be at this moment from the start of the year," said head coach Charlie Wade. "Just trying to do our best to prepare, and hopefully be good enough to advance on Tuesday.”
That is when the Rainbow Warriors begin their run at a national championship trophy, but standing in the way first is a Penn State program that UH has faced in all five of its NCAA tournament appearances, and the one that eliminated them in the first round two years ago.
“I know the loss in 2015 was a heart-breaker for some of the guys on the team," AVCA first-team All-American Stijn van Tilburg said. "I feel like we’re definitely going to make it personal.”
Five current 'Bows were a part of that team two years ago that held the #1 ranking for much of the season, only to lose in the MPSF semifinals and then again in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Penn State.
“There was a realization with that group that we were running on fumes," said Wade. "We had guys at the end of it that were pretty dinged up and didn’t have the same bounce to them. This team is much more prepared to come in and advance all the way to the final.”
Kupono Fey was one of the players that left Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford that night feeling dejected after the four-set loss, a premature end to a once-promising season.
“That was a tough moment, but I’m so glad to be back here," said the senior outside hitter. "This whole season feels like a redemption season.”
Redemption against the Nittany Lions is what the 'Bows want now. Redemption against BYU is what they wanted two weeks ago, and it gave this UH team the validation as one of the very best in the country.
“It was huge for us," said Fey. "Everyone was counting us out. There’s not a lot of respect for us I guess. We showed them, we shut everyone up.”
The Rainbow Warriors have been playing with something special all season long. Tuesday, 4,500 miles away in Columbus, Ohio, their final journey begins. Three wins are all that stand in the way of a national championship banner hanging from the rafters of the Stan Sheriff Center.
"That was a dream that I was thinking about since I was younger. Now to actually have a chance at it is unbelievable," said Tuileta. "It took a lot of work from the coaching staff, everyone that contributed on the team. If we can get that banner up, that’ll be the happiest day of my life for sure up to now."
It would be the perfect way to go out for the senior class which has meant so much to the program.
“That would be epic," said Wade. "The guys always talk about leaving a legacy for the program or the people of Hawaii. That’s pretty heady stuff. We’re just trying to stay focused on getting through Penn State, but it’d be pretty special.”
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