COLUMBUS, OHIO — It was a different venue and opponent, but the same old story for the BYU Cougars on Saturday night in the NCAA Division I Men’s Volleyball championship match.

For the fourth time in a title match, dating back to 2013, BYU was swept and didn’t look like it belonged on the court with the eventual national champions. The Cougars fell 3-0 to No. 1 seed Hawaii at Covelli Center on the campus of Ohio State University in a match that was never all that competitive.

The scores were 25-21, 25-19 and 25-16.

“I mean, I really think they just outplayed us. They served well, they passed well. They were getting balls up all over the court. Just hats off to those guys.” — BYU setter Wil Stanley.

“It is hard to pinpoint (the reasons for another title match collapse),” BYU coach Shawn Olmstead said in the virtual post-match news conference. “It is kind of a crazy blur for everybody.”

For everybody but the Rainbow Warriors, who had lost only once since getting swept by BYU in March of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic wrecked the season and denied college volleyball fans the chance to see a title match last year.

Saturday night in front of an ESPNU audience and limited attendance at OSU, Hawaii did all the wrecking, handing BYU its fourth loss, against 20 wins, in what was supposed to be a highly entertaining match between teams on a collision course.

“It hurts,” said Olmstead. “It hurts a lot.”

BYU was swept by UC Irvine in the 2013 championship match at UCLA, by Ohio State twice (in 2016 and 2017 at Penn State and OSU, respectively) and now by Big West champion Hawaii.

“I mean, I really think they just outplayed us,” BYU setter Wil Stanley said (Stanley is from Honolulu). “They served well, they passed well. They were getting balls up all over the court. Just hats off to those guys.”

The match was never close. BYU’s only leads were 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 and 19-18 in the first set. Hawaii never trailed in the second and third sets. It was arguably the most lopsided loss in Olmstead’s six seasons as BYU’s men’s volleyball coach.

“They were the better team tonight,” Stanley said. “They took care of business. We tried to do what we could. We played our game as well. They just had a better night tonight.”

It was complete and utter domination for the Warriors, whose only loss this season was to UC San Diego in the Big West conference tournament semifinals.

Hawaii unleashed a powerful service game that BYU simply could not handle, finishing with 10 aces to BYU’s two.

Related
Why this NCAA men’s volleyball championship matters even more. Maybe twice as much
No. 2 BYU holds off Lewis, sets up national championship showdown with No. 1 Hawaii

“I was surprised that we became so tentative in serve reception, and then as points kinda added up they found even more confidence from the service line and found more energy,” Olmstead said. “We have been a part of that side. We have done that at times. Tonight they were able to do it.”

The Cougars were out of sync the entire night, thanks to the inability to handle rockets off the hands of Rado Parapunov (three aces), Colton Cowell (three aces) and Jakob Thelle (four aces). When BYU did handle a serve, its passing was not up to snuff, often causing disaster at the net.

“I thought they were a little more composed from the service line and in reception,” Olmstead said. “For some reason, we seemed to get a little rattled, which I don’t know if we have seen that too many times this year. So credit to them, they went on a 5-0 run right there in that first set.”

Hawaii had 41 kills to BYU’s 34; Parapunov, from Bulgaria, had 13 kills, while Gasman and Cowell — a Maui native who said Friday this would be the biggest night of his life — had seven apiece.

Gabi Garcia Fernandez led BYU with 12 kills, but the 2020 Player of the Year was outplayed by the 2021 Player of the Year — Parapunov — and did not record an ace. That means “GGF” came up one ace short of matching Taylor Sander’s school record of 182.

It was that kind of night for the Cougars, now 3-5 in national championship matches.

“We couldn’t get our service game going collectively as a group and the stats show that,” said Olmstead, who started on the last BYU team that won a national volleyball championship, back in 2004.

It was bitterly disappointing, too, considering that this was arguably BYU’s best team in decades. Seven seniors will move on without national championships under their belt, including GGF and three starters who returned for an additional year when COVID-19 cut short the 2020 campaign: Zach Eschenberg, Miki Jauhiainen and Wil Stanley.

BYU opened the match with a pair of roofs, but that was as good as it got for the MPSF champions.

Hawaii served and passed better the next 20 or so points and surged ahead 16-13.

Garcia Fernandez heated up and the Cougars went ahead 19-18 with a 5-2 run. It appeared the Cougars had found their sea legs.

Guess again.

After a timeout, UH reeled off five straight points, a run that essentially won the set for the Rainbow Warriors and built their confidence to the point where they couldn’t be stopped.

A couple of costly net violations by BYU spurred the run, along with some fine kills by Parapunov.

With the score knotted at 19-19, BYU’s Davide Gardini hit a ball out on a back row quick (Bic) and the Cougars never recovered.

Hawaii hit .400 in the first set, applying great pressure with its service game and passing well after initially encountering a nasty BYU block.

The Warriors would finish hitting .381 — adding another .400 hitting set in the third — while the Cougars hit just .262. Both teams committed 11 service errors.

“It was an uncharacteristic night,” Olmstead said, noting that junior Mitchell Worthington “has been an outstanding libero for us the entire season, and it was a tough night for him.”

In the second set, Eschenberg reeled off a string of three straight kills to help BYU climb out of an early deficit, but the Cougars couldn’t sustain it. Service errors also damaged BYU momentum.

About the only bright spot for BYU in the middle set was a 3-0 run after UH had taken a 17-9 lead, powered by kills from Stanley, GGF and Gardini.

Hawaii took a timeout to stem the tide, and once again it was well-timed — a 6-2 UH run put it away, pretty much.

Parapunov was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, while Gasman and Thelle made the all-tournament team. For BYU, Garcia Fernandez and Wil Stanley also made the all-tournament team, along with Casey McGarry of UCSB and Tyler Mitchem of Lewis.

The Cougars got to the finals by downing Lewis 3-1, while Hawaii advanced with a 3-0 sweep of UCSB.

For the mother of BYU star Garcia Fernandez, it was doubly disappointing. Rebecca Fernandez made the trip from Puerto Rico, arising at 2 a.m. Saturday morning and getting on three flights to arrive before first serve, only to see the Cougars struggle as much as they have any match this season.

Gabi Garcia Fernandez said several other family members also made the trip, which he was thankful for despite one of the Cougars’ worst matches in two years.

“Having family here is always an honor,” he said. “Not only my mom and dad made it — my big brother, my little brother, my cousins, my grandma is here. Everybody is here.

“It was a party in Ohio today. I am excited to get out of here and go give them a hug. 

Regardless of winning or losing, that doesn’t matter when it comes to family. They love me the same, and I love them the same. Obviously, I wish I could have given them a gold trophy, but hey, Rebecca has to deal with the silver one this time.”

The same can be said for BYU volleyball fans everywhere.

Unfortunately, for the fourth straight time.