The Japanese players didn’t know what Tokyo would be like when they arrived, nor if their collegiate season would go on as scheduled beginning in April.
The Nittaidai players left the Rainbow Warriors with a new vocabulary following their two exhibitions at the Stan Sheriff Center, one word in particular: zan’nen (regret). As in having none. Not when you’ve given your all on the court.
It is unclear as to whether Nittaidai will have a season.
On Thursday, Hawaii found out it won’t.
The NCAA decision to cancel all spring sports competition didn’t just end the season but likely the collegiate careers of the four Warriors seniors.
There is no regret in the season that had them No. 1 until this week. The regret is in not being able to duke it out, not being able to prove that the top ranking the past three months wasn’t a fluke.
There is no regret in how they played for 15 of the 16 matches, the one loss — a dominating sweep by BYU — what Hawaii considers an aberration, an anything-that-could-go-wrong-did kind of night.
“But what are you going to do?” James Anastassiades said after the team returned to campus on Friday afternoon. “You can moan in sorrow, say it’s unfair, ask why is it happening to me, or you look at it as an opportunity to do something new.
“I served my last volleyball in the Stan Sheriff Center (last Friday), probably my last volleyball ever. We lost one national championship (finishing second in 2019) and we lost the chance for a second one this year when we thought we had a pretty good chance. If coronavirus just ended my last season, then I got everything I ever wanted from being in Hawaii for five years, all the friends I’ve made and knowing how loving and supportive everyone is of this program.”
The NCAA is discussing another year of eligibility for the seniors whose last year was cut short. It would be very complicated, given scholarship and roster limits, recruits coming in and the major question of who pays for it.
Anastassiades, in his fifth year, might be open to it — although he already has 150 credits, 30 more than a degree requires.
Hitter Colton Cowell, also in his fifth year, likely would not.
“I’ve been here for five years, the most incredible five years of my life, and even with the events that just happened, I would trade nothing,” the King Kekaulike graduate said. “I don’t know if I’d consider a sixth. I’ve completed my degree with a minor. The best decision is to move on.”
Cowell didn’t play in the five-set marathon win over BYU — food poisoning, dehydration and knee inflammation part of the reasons he sat out. His replacement, freshman Chaz Galloway, had a career night with 10 kills and three blocks, one of several underclassmen who stepped up in front of the first sold-out crowd of the season.
“The future is extremely bright,” Cowell said. “The gentlemen who are freshmen and sophomores have such an incredible ceiling above them. There is enough talent to win it all the next few years.”
Cowell, All-America opposite Rado Parapunov and All-America middle Patrick Gasman are eyeing pro careers in Europe. Parapunov will remain in Hawaii indefinitely with the situation in his native Bulgaria as uncertain as in the rest of the world.
“I am still processing,” said Parapunov, forever 14 kills away from becoming the 18th Warrior to reach 1,000. “We had an amazing match (with BYU) and we were looking to the future. In two hours, it was done. It was four years in Hawaii ‘bye.’
“We realize it’s the right thing to do, but there are so many emotions. I think it would have been a great season.”
The senior class was one of the winningest in program history, 89-18 the past four seasons, 43-4 the last two.
“They have been great,” Hawaii coach Charlie Wade said. “Besides winning more than any group, I‘m guessing. They are a bunch of quality young men.
“Our last match … playing in front of 10,000 .. 19-17 in the fifth … it was pretty epic. If that’s your last match, that is a really nice memory to have.”
Before leaving Wednesday, Gasman reflected on the victory over BYU, where he had the kill that gave Hawaii its fifth match point at 18-17 and a career-high five aces, the last a walk-off that gave the Warriors the victory.
“People will ask me what my favorite memory in the Stan was,” Gasman said on Tuesday. “It’s definitely that.”
No one could foresee that Gasman’s best memory would be the last point of Hawaii’s last victory of 2020.