What the Hawaii men’s volleyball team of 2019 was able to do — with its program-record 28 victories and NCAA-record 74 consecutive sets-won — will be hard to replicate. So, too, will be the noise level on April 20 for the Big West tournament championship match against Long Beach State at the Stan Sheriff Center.
I was the beat writer for UH men’s basketball for a number of seasons, including 1997-98 for what most consider the program’s signature victory, the 76-65 upset of No. 2 Kansas for the 1997 Rainbow Classic title. That night in what was then the Special Events Arena was loud, the crowd noise increasing as Hawaii’s lead grew on the Jayhawks, hitting a high on the 6-foot-8 Erin Galloway’s monster block of Kansas 7-footer Eric Chenowith.
The crescendo came when Alika Smith walked out to accept his all-tournament plaque followed by Anthony Carter picking up the MVP hardware.
As loud as Dec. 30, 1997 was, it would be drowned out by April 20, 2019.
It was deafening, even before Hawaii All-America setter Joe Worsley served the first ball and continued even after Worsley served aloha ball 2 hours and 50 minutes later.
It was a sustained loudness, the only difference being when loud got louder, and louder broke the decibel meter.
The rocking, raucous atmosphere was reminiscent of the 1995-96 era with the rock star-esque Warriors who sold out the arena and made believers in the popularity of men’s volleyball. With apologies to Yuval Katz, Aaron Wilton and Company, the 2019 Warriors made believers — even of Big West officials — in the marketability and profitability of men’s volleyball.
Objectivity is the cornerstone of reporting but it was hard not to become attached to the 2019 team. It was a really good group of guys who loved each other and the sport they played.
The lead of my story in the Dec. 31, 1997, Star-Bulletin read:
Some 21 years and four months later, the same could be said of the Warriors’ 25-15, 23-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-8 victory over the 49ers that gave Hawaii its first conference championship and No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
The 2019 Rainbow Warriors, highlighted by that Big West championship, checked in at No. 3 in our Stan Sheriff Center 25th-anniversary countdown of most memorable moments.