Patrick Gasman, Hawaii’s 6-foot-9 volleyball All-American, wasn’t keeping his eye on the ball as most athletes are taught.
“I was just watching Casey’s hands and following the ball where it goes,” he said on Thursday, referring to UCSB senior All-American Casey McGarry. “He’s a really good setter, and I was really trying to read him … and was just chasing the ball wherever it went.”
He and the top-ranked Rainbow Warriors will now be chasing a championship in Saturday’s NCAA final after having blocked the No. 3 Gauchos off the court during Thursday’s semifinals in Columbus, Ohio. They swept UCSB 25-21, 25-18, 25-23.
“It’s really good to get the win against a very good team,” Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said. “When we had good service turns and received better, we were able to make a run at them.
“And I think, in particular, our block was good early and often, and really kind of influenced the match.”
Hawaii (16-1) out-blocked UCSB (16-5) by a 13.5-to-4.0 margin. Gasman stuffed the Gauchos six times, helping to hold them to a kill percentage of just .170.
He also had 10 kills with no errors in 16 swings (.625 percentage). It made the difference on a night when UCSB held Rainbow Warrior star Rado Parapunov to a percentage of just .143 (12 kills and seven errors in 35 attempts). Ryan Wilcox led the Gauchos with 13 digs, helping to limit Hawaii’s hitting percentage to.263 — well below its season average of .365.
“The guys always follow the game plan to a T, and we had a good game plan to stop them with our serve-block defense,” Gaucho coach Rick McLaughlin said. “We could’ve served a little bit better, I think — that would’ve made the match closer — but we definitely touched a lot of balls and dug a lot of balls.
“I think if we sided out better we could’ve won.”
Parapunov said Hawaii actually played its best team match of the year.
“When Patrick plays like that, I don’t think anyone can stop us,” he said. “We knew that if we don’t play good, Santa Barbara can beat us easily. We give them the most respect.
“We put our foot on the gas all the way through to the end.”
McGarry had received Off the Block’s Lloy Ball Award as the NCAA Setter of the Year just a day earlier. He led the nation with an average of 11.07 assists per set. But Hawaii completely shut down his two outside hitters on Thursday. They had just 11 kills between them with 10 errors in 40 swings.
“We didn’t play our best volleyball, but I think Hawaii had a lot to do with that,” McLaughlin said. “Hawaii played well — they served well.
“We had some moments where we got back in the match, but we couldn’t be consistent enough to keep that going. So hats off to Hawaii. They played well.”
UCSB had its chances in the first set, but Hawaii ran away with the second. The Rainbow Warriors led by as much as 21-12 before settling for a 25-18 win.
The third set was tight the entire way. The Gauchos won a thrilling, 50-second rally to get within 23-21. Wilcox ran down two balls way beyond the end line, and Ryan Pecsok saved another during the spectacular exchange. Keenan Sanders finished it by scoring off a slide play on McGarry’s back-set.
“It’s the same thing we’ve seen in our gym every day,” McLaughlin said of the rally. “They go after it, they compete. If we just could’ve got going a little bit more, I think we’d be out there.”
Sanders finished with an attack percentage of .375, notching eight kills. Randy DeWeese hit .207 with a team-high 13 putaways.
Roy McFarland’s seventh kill got UCSB within 23-22, and another by Donovan Todorov gave the Gauchos one last chance at 24-23.
But Parapunov put the next ball away to clinch the match for Hawaii.
Sanders, DeWeese, McGarry and McFarland were the four seniors from last year’s club who put their professional careers on hold to return this year for a COVID-19 do-over.
“These guys have been awesome to coach,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been one of the most fun times I’ve ever had — even through COVID — in coaching these guys.
“They’re one of a kind. They are the heart and soul of Gaucho volleyball, and they’ve been awesome.”
McFarland said he would be leaving UCSB with his “head held high.”
“We had to make a lot of sacrifices, obviously — everybody knows that,” he said. “It was really hard for us fifth-years to make those sacrifices, and we came back pretty much just for volleyball.
“We’re not exactly super-proud of the way we played tonight, but we are really proud for a lot of things and really proud of each other and our coaches.”