As James Anastassiades made the rounds of the Stan Sheriff Center lower bowl, greeting fans and well-wishers, he cradled something tight.
It was the Raising Cane’s Rainbow Warrior Classic championship trophy, and a symbol of a special night personally.
Anastassiades, the consummate supporting teammate for the better part of his five-year UH career, got a rare turn in the spotlight Saturday. Go-to senior hitter Colton Cowell, who appeared dressed and ready to play, was scratched after suffering an apparent injury late in Friday night’s match against Harvard.
That night, Anastassiades gave the tunnel hugs to starters normally supplied by assistant coach Milan Zarkovic, who was out with an ailment. With Zarkovic still gone for Saturday’s match against Grand Canyon, that honor went to Cowell.
Anastassiades? He was busy being on the receiving end of an embrace — his first career start and on-court introduction.
“Words honestly can’t explain how amazing that feeling was, walking out of the tunnel and seeing everyone cheer was, it was really humbling and really special,” he said after the 25-15, 25-20, 25-13 sweep of the Antelopes.
— Hawaii Warrior World (@hawaiiwworld) January 12, 2020
The Huntington Beach, Calif., native had four kills on nine swings with one error (.333), one ace, two digs and was in on one block.
With UH employing a more balanced attack than usual — and Rado Parapunov emerging to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors with a season-high 13 kills — Anastassiades knew what his focus should be, and it didn’t involve directly scoring points most of the time.
“I was trying to help out as much as I could on the serve-receive game,” he said. “If you get the good pass, you know what, get ready to hit, but you gotta make sure the pass is perfect every time. That’s what I focused on every time, and obviously I am a serving sub, so serving was a big part for me. Being able to come in more often and do it, yeah, it was a really awesome experience.”
The selfless approach was not lost on libero Gage Worsley.
“He puts so much work in. It shows so much. We’re all rooting for him so much. He’s just the heart of the team. Seeing him play like that is amazing.
“Usually when you have a starter step out as big as Colton, you see a huge drop-off with the next guy,” Worsley said. “But James just stood in there. What I like to see about him is he’s so consistent. Sometimes we see the ‘B’ side, or ‘A+’ side as we call it, a guy’s hot in practice but when he comes into the game, he’s streaky. He was consistent. He was passing, he was bombing serves. It was super fun to see.”
UH (5-0) swept its season-opening five-match homestand and now prepares to head out for a four-game road trip, including matches at No. 6 Lewis on Friday and No. 11 Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.
“Loyola and Lewis is going to be a really good test for us,” Anastassiades said. “But you know what, all the extra work we’ve been putting in in the preseason, all the work we’ve put in since we’ve been back after Christmas, I think we’re in a good place right now and we trust that the work we put in should pay off.”
For one night in January, it certainly did.