Hawaii men’s volleyball: How have Rainbow Warriors fared opening season as No. 1?

Hawaii men's volleyball star Yuval Katz and coach Mike Wilton posed on Jan. 17, 1996. / Star-Advertiser file photo by Dennis Oda

When the Hawaii men’s volleyball team opens the 2020 season tonight against Charleston, it will do so as the AVCA preseason No. 1 team for the first time in program history.

The Rainbow Warriors lost some notable players from last year’s NCAA runner-up squad, but still have weapons aplenty to turn to like Rado Parapunov, Colton Cowell and Patrick Gasman.

As Ferd Lewis noted in today’s column on men’s volleyball, the AVCA preseason poll has only existed since 2007.

But three times previously — 1989, 1996 and 2003 — UH was picked as the No. 1 team in the first poll at the start of the season. Let’s take a quick look at how UH fared those seasons.

1989 (22-7, 15-5 WIVA)
Alan Rosehill’s Warriors opened the season in a tournament at UC Santa Barbara, winning two of three matches. The majority of the season was played on the mainland. Six of UH’s seven losses came at California schools, including a season-ending five-set loss to Stanford in the WIVA second round at UCLA. UH went 7-1 at home.

1996 (27-3, 19-0 MPSF)
Mike Wilton’s fourth season was the program’s high mark to date and UH delivered on its ranking nearly the entire season. UH won its first 13 matches, and stumbling only once in the regular season, a five-setter at home against UCLA on March 2 in a memorable split on consecutive nights. Unfortunately for UH, that would prove as foreshadowing as the Yuval Katz-led Warriors advanced all the way to the NCAA championship for the first time, facing host UCLA … and losing in five after taking a 2-1 sets lead.

2003 (24-6, 17-5 MPSF)
At the time, Hawaii was still the reigning national champion coming off its May 4, 2002 NCAA title victory over Pepperdine at State College, Pa. The Warriors won their first five official matches in their title defense before falling at home to Stanford in five on Jan. 24. UH would alternate wins and losses at midseason until stringing together 14 wins in a row, taking that months-long streak to the MPSF semifinals in Malibu. There, UH lost to BYU in straight sets on April 24. The tougher loss would come a few months later, as the NCAA would strip UH’s 2002 title because of the previous professional affiliation of star Costas Theocharidis.