The kings of the college volleyball world are back to defend their throne.
The defending champion Rainbow Warriors, with their backs against the wall, delivered in a win-or-go-home game Saturday night. The 'Bows swept their arch rival at the Stan Sheriff Center, punching their ticket to Los Angeles and the NCAA Tournament.
"It feels amazing," sophomore opposite hitter Dimitrios Mouchlias said. "That's my first ever title since coming to the United States. I just want to thank all of my teammates and coaches for their hard work that made it possible."
Although they made it look easy, winning against top-seeded Long Beach State was anything but. Every set were decided by mere points. Hawaii won every set of the three-set sweep by just two points. UH almost dropped the second set, but the energy from the crowd, the team said, put them over the top.
The team says they wouldn't be where they are without the warrior faithful--6,300 strong. Head coach Charlie Wade told the fans after the game that "this championship isn't for you, it is because of you."
"It does matter," Wade later added. "High-level athletics is emotional, everyone is super into it--to get that synergy effect, it's real. The support that we get from volleyball, the more fans there are, the higher level that you can take your team to. They clearly impacted the game in a positive way for us."
But aside from their fans being a big factor, the Bows are on to the NCAA Tournament and will be on the road at UCLA's Paulie Pavilion next week looking to defend their crown against a stacked bracket of opponents.
That bracket of opponents? Unlike anything we've seen in recent years.
Usual participants Penn State, USC, Lewis, Ohio State and BYU lost in their conference tournaments. Instead we'll see a collection of UCLA, Long Beach State, Ball State, Pepperdine, Princeton and North Greenville University.
Princeton will battle North Greenville next Sunday for the right to play Hawaii on Tuesday May 3rd at 4:30 p.m. HST.
For Wade and the rest of the team, it doesn't matter who they play, they're ready to defend their crown.
"I'm pretty pleased, the committee had a tough job this year with all the chaos," Wade said. "We certainly want to defend the title, we're playing our best volleyball right now. We hope people come out and support us in LA and we're gonna do everything we can to put on a good show and win three matches."
"I'm pretty excited, there's a lot of really good teams this year," junior setter Jakob Thelle said. "We're looking to play our best volleyball, take every game one game at a time and see how it goes."
The NCAA Championship game will be nationally televised on ESPN2. For the rest of the tournament, you can watch the Warriors on NCAA.com.