The dream season for the University of Hawaii men's volleyball team came screeching to a halt Thursday night in Columbus, Ohio. The Rainbow Warriors were outplayed from start to finish by #1 Ohio State, losing in straight sets 25-23, 25-18, 25-19.
The Buckeyes will play BYU, who swept Long Beach State in the other semifinal, Saturday night in a rematch of the 2016 NCAA Championship match.
"We lost to the number one team in the AVCA poll, the number one team in the RPI and the number one seed in the NCAA, all on the road," said UH head coach Charlie Wade. "Tonight we played a really good team that played good at home. I'm just really proud of the season we had."
Despite the return of senior middle blocker Hendrik Mol, Hawaii --the top blocking team in the country-- was out-blocked by the Buckeyes 11-1.
"It seemed like everything was clicking for them," senior setter Jennings Franciskovic said. "I think we were playing great, they just played better."
Stijn van Tilburg led UH with 13 kills, while Kupono Fey had nine kills and eight digs in his final collegiate match.
"We weren't satisfied, but we look back and we think we left a good legacy for this team and for this program," Fey said of the senior class reaching two NCAA Tournaments. "We hope this was just another stepping stone for this program."
Right out of the gate Franciskovic tried to get Mol involved, setting the AVCA All-America honorable mention, only to get rejected by a solo block. That signified how the night would go for the Rainbow Warriors.
Five of Ohio State's first 13 points came via blocks, but it was a block from the 'Bows that may have changed the course of the match. Down 24-23, UH set up a triple block on the outside. The ball careened off Franciskovic's hand and down towards the line. The Rainbow Warriors thought it was in, the referee called it out, and the first set went to the Buckeyes.
Down two early in the second set, UH tied it at eight thanks to a Franciskovic solo block and a Brett Rosenmeier kill. The Buckeyes went on a 7-0 run courtesy of four service aces from Nicolas Szerszen, and Hawaii was never able to recover.
An Ohio State run midway through the third set, led by their top two hitters, Szerszen and Miles Johnson, did the 'Bows in for good and dropped their record in NCAA semifinal matches to 2-2.
The Rainbow Warriors finish the year 27-6, tying the program record for wins in a season. The bulk of the team returns next year, but they will have significant shoes to fill as Fey, Mol and Franciskovic all played their last matches in a UH uniform.
"Growing up as a local boy, you don't really know what it means," an emotional Fey said of wearing the Rainbow Warrior uniform. "Just playing for UH is everything, so thank you guys. It was a dream come true."
"This season as a program was a step forward," said Wade. "We think we brought a lot of pride to the people of Hawaii in our performance."
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