Hawaii men’s volleyball: Colton Cowell rises in Big West semifinals

Hawaii outside hitter Colton Cowell went up to block UC Irvine opposite Patrick Sohacki in the Big West semifinals. / Photo by Jamm Aquino, Star-Advertiser

It was Colton Cowell’s time to rise and shine.

Hawaii’s lone local product gave the raucous home crowd reason after reason to get on its feet and stay there on Friday night. Cowell, the junior outside hitter from Makawao, Maui, returned to form at a crucial time in a 25-17, 25-16, 25-18 sweep of UC Irvine in the Big West tournament semifinals, setting up another hyped matchup with rival Long Beach State in Saturday’s 8 p.m. title tilt.

The 6-foot-2 Cowell, who can touch higher than 3 1/2 feet above the top of the net, has been a highlight machine most of the season between his solo blocks and ability to hammer the ball straight down.

Cowell was not the only member of the Rainbow Warriors (26-2) to be held in check in two marquee matches at Long Beach State (26-1) last week. But he was certainly among them, as he hit .167 and .214, totaling 10 kills in the pair of five-set losses.

Friday, he put down nine kills on 17 swings, hitting .412, providing an effective third option for setter Joe Worsley after opposite Rado Parapunov (12 kills, .857) and hitter Stijn van Tilburg (nine kills, .235).

“The emotions playing in front of this crowd are truly surreal,” Cowell said of the Stan Sheriff Center tally of over 7,500. “And we were very well aware that this could be the last opportunity to play here. However, we were really not willing to let that happen. We were going to leave everything out on the court. We were going to play our hearts out and put on a good performance for our fans.”

Cowell was a largely unknown commodity coming out of King Kekaulike High two years ago. He had more beach volleyball experience than indoor. He garnered some all-state honors, but his club experience was not extensive. Senior Brett Rosenmeier was expected to have that spot in the rotation entering the season.

“Coming in, starting my career here at the University of Hawaii as a freshman walk-on, to now being on the court and contributing statistically to this team, it’s been an incredibly long process,” Cowell said. “And, to be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because it has taught me a lot as a human being. Discipline, patience, perseverance. And I give all the credit to my teammates and my coaches for believing in me and supporting me.”

Underscoring his all-around worth Friday, Cowell got in on four blocks and tied for team-high honors with five digs.

“We’re a lot better (when he’s like that), no doubt,” coach Charlie Wade said. “It gives us the ability to go fast in Area 6 and fast in Area 4. The middle-back and left-front for six rotations. He is a really good blocker, especially for a guy they look at and go, ‘aw, a little guy!’ ”

Wade noted Cowell’s practices were abbreviated leading up to the Long Beach trip because of his class schedule. The team accommodated him upon its return, practicing later than normal, Wade said.

“He was able to get in a really good week of practice and you see the difference,” the coach said. “He was really good from the get-go tonight.”

He helped close it in style, too. With the outcome still in question in the third set, Cowell solo blocked UCI’s Karl Apfelbach. On the next point, he skied for a close-fisted putdown kill for a 15-11 lead, helping launch a 6-0 run that effectively ended the match.

There was one signature moment left; he punished the scrambling Anteaters with a ball hammered nearly straight down at 20-12.

Wade said Cowell is in the highest tier of leapers that he has coached. The Josh Walker tier.

It’s not something that happened overnight. The coach was effusive about how Cowell transformed himself into what he is now — a process that has not yet seen its end.

“What he has done to his body — he’s put 45 pounds of muscle onto his frame,” Wade said. “And he works constantly on his game and his body. This is all new to him. There were a lot of times this year where he struggled on stuff, and you just gotta let him play through it until he figures this out. This is the first time he’s played high-level indoor volleyball. … He’s learning every day. You see him, and he just keeps improving. That part’s very exciting for him.”

Remarkably, in a few months Cowell will have a chance to compete for a spot on the Team USA B squad that will play in the Pan-American Cup, according to Wade.

There’s some unfinished business to attend with The Beach on Saturday, though — and perhaps again on May 4 in the national championship game at The Pyramid.

“We’re going to go out there, each of us is going to contribute to our different roles,” Cowell said, “and we’re just going to play with some fire, play efficient, play crisp, and hopefully the outcome leaves us on top in the end.”


  1. Rod Arias April 20, 2019 11:22 am

    Besides Colton Cowell, Alakai Todd (punahou) and Hogland a FaB 50 from Iolani are both freshmen and redshirting this year

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