When the Rainbow Warrior volleyball team was left out of the NCAA tournament last month, the decision sent shockwaves and feelings of injustice throughout various U.H. athletics programs.
Those feelings were amplified on Monday, when five of Hawaii's men's volleyball players were named AVCA All-Americans.
Being crowned an All-American is typically a happy time, one meant for congratulations.
Instead, says Hawaii head coach Charlie Wade, those feelings were accompanied by contradiction: how can five players – almost U.H.'s entire starting line-up – be selected among the nation's best players in 2018, but the team as whole miss out on the Big Dance ?
"It's quite an accomplishment," said Wade. "You have to be a pretty good team to get five guys recognized."
Two of the five were named first-team All-Americans, and outside hitter Stijn van Tilburg became just the sixth player in program history to be named to the AVCA's top team two years in a row. Libero Larry Tuileta earned his inaugural first-team nod after being a second-team selection last season.
Setter Joe Worsley landed on the AVCA second team. He was ranked #2 in the country in assists per set at 11.02 last season and helped Hawaii become the fourth-best team in the nation in hitting percentage at .340.
Rounding things out were opposite Rado Parapunov and middle blocker Patrick Gasman, who both received honorable mention selections.
"I think we all know we should've been in. That just confirms it," said Wade, on the number of players from his squad named AVCA All-Americans. "It probably is a first, where five guys get recognized and you're not in the tournament."
Wade wasn't the only one feeling jipped after Monday's announcements. Van Tilburg echoed the same sentiments as his coach.
"I think still we are one of the best teams, if not the best team. We beat Long Beach... I mean we're still thinking 'What if? What if we had a chance on a neutral court to play Long Beach again?' said van Tilburgh. "What if we have just one more chance?' We could've won it all."
The Rainbow Warriors missed out on receiving an automatic NCAA bid after they fell to Long Beach in five sets on the 49ers home court in the championship match of the Big West tournament two weeks ago.
However, the 'Bows split their regular season series with the 9ers when they met at the Stan Sheriff Center just a week prior to the tournament.
In the AVCA coaches poll released just days after the conference tournament finished, Long Beach was named the top team in the nation. Hawaii seemed like a sure fire at-large tournament selection at No. 4.
Instead, UC Irvine, which ranked No. 5 in that week's poll, with one more loss, a loss to U.H. in the first round of the conference tournament, and a split series result against Hawaii during the regular season got an at-large bid.
They joined a field including Harvard, who received an automatic bid with a 13-13 record, and King University, a program that wasn't even ranked inside the top-15 in the nation.
The Rainbow Warriors know they can't change what's already done. With four of their five all-American selections returning next season, all they can do is look ahead.
"You always try to look for the positives," said van Tilburg. "You can't just look at the negative too much. At the same time, while you're still excited for next year, you're also thinking, like, 'that's like 300 days away or more". I still want to be playing right now... We're still lucky to have one more year. Most of the starters have one more year."
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