For the record, it’s pronounced “Ya-kob Tell-a.”
Sophomore Jakob Thelle, who was a freshman reserve for the Hawaii men’s volleyball team in the Rainbow Warriors’ run to the NCAA national championship game in 2019, introduced himself to fans in a more direct way on Friday night as UH’s new starting setter.
But even after a 25-19, 25-16, 25-16 season-opening sweep of Charleston, teammates and UH staff couldn’t resist calling out to the sophomore with the English pronunciation of his name, with a hard “J.”
“I call him ‘Jakie’,” senior hitter Colton Cowell said. “It changes every time.”
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) January 4, 2020
The 6-foot-6 native of Tonsberg, Norway, certainly represented a change from graduated All-American Joe Worsley, who left the program as one of its all-time greats at the position in captaining UH within two sets of a national title. UH lost to rival Long Beach State in four sets at The Pyramid on May 4, 2019.
Thelle, formerly a serving specialist, debuted as UH’s primary distributor with 22 assists and two kills and an error on four swings, while yielding time to fellow setters Brett Sheward and Jackson Van Eekeren in runaway Sets 2 and 3. He dug three balls and was in on two blocks.
“I think it was great. I had a lot of fun,” Thelle said. “It’s all just about enjoying the game and connecting with attackers well. And I mean Joe, he was, if not the best setter for UH history, I think just coming in, those were really big shoes to fill. And I was just embracing that role today and just getting in there, having fun, and hopefully keep that as long as I can.”
The Rainbow Warriors and the Golden Eagles had never met before Friday’s match, but they’ll link up again on Saturday night.
Aside from playing around with his name, Cowell comes off as serious about Thelle’s potential at the position.
“He performed excellent. He kept a level head, he was confident,” Cowell said. “He brought a lot of different aspects that he’s been able to showcase, such as his physicality. His ability to attack on 2 (the second hit instead of the third). His ability to play tight balls at the net and save those. He’s going to be a big factor for us in our success this year. And I couldn’t be more proud of him to step up and fulfill his role and fill the shoes that Joe left last season.”
While UH’s attack was perhaps not as rapid-fire as many people grew accustomed to at the fingertips of the crafty, (generously listed) 6-foot-1 Worsley, the Rainbow Warriors gradually settled in with their new-feel offense with some higher-trajectory balls.
Until a couple years ago, Thelle was actually closer to the setter mold of Worsley.
“Starting off as a setter, I was the shortest guy on the team, until I was 16, 17 years old,” he said. “I started growing, got real tall. I think from then it was using that to my advantage and just making a new game, because it’s a different when you have a setter that’s 6-6, you can hit on the 2 a lot more. Just seeing how we can keep growing from that.”
Thelle kept a level head when Charleston led 12-9 in Set 1, and he guided the Warriors through the rest of the set. He received loud cheers from the crowd of 3,217 when his slamdown of an overpass made it 15-7 in Set 2.
“It was fun, and hopefully you guys will see more of that during the season,” he said.
Cowell broke down how committing blockers at the net defending UH and its top threats (Rado Parapunov, Patrick Gasman) should be a headache. The Warriors worked for that in the nine months since their crushing loss to LBSU.
“We have to be more physical. We worked really hard in the offseason, in the weight room to increase our vertical so that we could attack at a higher point,” he said. “And I think our efficiency will show that if we keep the ball high, there’s not much opportunity for the block to necessarily get a stuff block straight to the floor. So we’re able to play higher-IQ volleyball where you have to really decide. There’s a ball up and there’s going to be four to six hands (defending), and you have to decide what we’re going to do with the ball.”
Charleston’s move Saturday night.