An effective serve is one of the most devastating weapons at any level of volleyball.
Unfortunately for the BYU men’s volleyball team, its serve receive game has been its kryptonite on the biggest stage.
For the third time since 2016 the Cougars were served out of the gym in the national championship match, falling to No. 1 Hawaii in straight sets (25-21, 25-19, 25-16) at the Covelli Center in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday for the Warriors’ first NCAA title.
Ohio State’s powerful serve game sent BYU packing in the 2016 and 2017 championship matches. This season, Hawaii’s serve proved too hot for the Cougars to handle.
“I thought they were little more composed from the service line and with receptions,” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said. “For some reason we seemed to get a little rattled. I don’t know if we’ve seen that too many times this year. Our tentativeness passing led to being tentative at the net in attacking. It’s hard to pinpoint right now and it’s kind of a crazy blur for everybody. I was surprised we became so tentative in serve receptions. As points added up they found more energy from the service line.”
The Warriors served 10 aces and BYU sprayed its serve receive all over the gym, which kept the Cougars out of system and out of sync the entire match.
BYU has been a good serving team this season but Hawaii handled nearly every offering with ease, providing plenty of offensive options that the Cougars were helpless to stop or even slow down. The Warriors hit at a .381 clip and sided out at 72%, while BYU managed just .262 and 53%.
Gabi Garcia Fernandez was effective when the Cougars (20-4) managed to get him the ball (12 kills) but for most of the match BYU’s offense was as ugly as its passing.
Rado Parapunov, the 2021 AVCA Player of the Year, led Hawaii (17-1) with 13 kills (.357) and three aces.
“I think they just outplayed us,” Cougar setter Wil Stanley said. “They served well and passed well. They were getting balls up all over the court. I don’t think they surprised us at all. They just played their game and played the way they do. They were the better team tonight. Those guys took care of business.”
BYU trailed much of Set 1 but finally caught Hawaii at 17 when Jonathan Teilon-Tafuga came off the bench for a serve that dribbled over the net for an ace. The Cougars led 19-18 after a strong serve from Garcia Fernandez got the Warriors out of system and forced an error. But Hawaii scored five straight points, including a hitting error and net violation from BYU, for a 23-19 lead. The Warriors won it at 25-20 when Jon Stanley sent a serve out of bounds.
BYU’s passing woes continued in the second set and Hawaii took a 16-8 lead.
“Once they started to add up aces they got even more comfortable and served more aces,” Olmstead said. “That’s exactly what happened. They got pretty confident. We couldn’t get our serve going collectively as a group, and the stats showed that. It allowed them to play a little more free and loose and it definitely did add up.”
The Cougars cut the deficit to 18-14 but could get no closer. Parapunov fired three straight ace serves and the Warriors led 23-14, finally winning on a kill from Galloway for a 25-19 victory and a 2-0 lead in the match.
Hawaii dominated in Set 3 on its march to the title, taking an early 12-8 lead and was never pressured by BYU. The Warriors hit .400 in the third set and at championship point got a kill from Patrick Gasman for the 25-16 decision and the match win.
“This was a long time coming and a lot of hard work,” Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said. “We are supported at a level in our community that college athletes don’t typically see. Not only is this win for the fans of Hawaii but it’s because of the fans of Hawaii. The mana, the energy these fans bring to us, it’s an incredible feeling.”
Stanley and Garcia Fernandez were named to the All-Tournament team and were joined by Hawaii’s Gasman, Jakob Thelle and Parapunov (the MVP), as well as UCSB’s Casey McGarry and Lewis’ Tyler Mitchem.
BYU won NCAA championships in 1999, 2001 and 2004 but has gone 0-4 in its past four finals. In fact, the Cougars have lost 12 straight sets, getting swept by UC Irvine (2013), Ohio State (2016, 2017) and Hawaii (2021).