Jakob Thelle – Honolulu, Hawaii

volleyball player

Jakob Thelle
Honolulu, HA

The thought of going to college first crossed my mind in high school. I was 15 and had just moved from my hometown, Tonsberg, to attend TopVolley Norway. My older sister, Helene, was already at Florida International University in Miami. I also followed Bjarne Huus (Long Beach State) and Hendrik Mol (UH) had previously taken on this journey, and I was inspired to do the same seeing their success. My ambition in volleyball was always to make it to the professional leagues living off the sport. Simultaneously, I was aware of the importance of education to support a career after volleyball. Halfway into high school, I realized my level of volleyball wasn’t enough to go professional, ultimately leading to that college and the NCAA was the right step for me. This was when I decided to reach out to Sandra and VolleyUSA.

Sandra was essential for making the transition to college possible. As we all know, the recruiting process is more complex and time-consuming than what a high school student can manage independently. As for schools, I dreamed of attending the University of Hawai’i at Manoa (UH)  holding its reputation as a national powerhouse in NCAA Volleyball…and it was in paradise. One day I received an email from the UH coaching staff stating their interest in me. After countless hours with Sandra working out emails, applications, and eligibility documents, I was finally offered a scholarship and accepted to attend my dream school. After signing my scholarship papers in June 2018, I was ready to trade the cold weather and long winters for a tropical life in the Hawaiian Islands. What I would experience in the next 5 years was far beyond my imagination.

Playing Volleyball in Hawai’i was an experience out of this world. Attendance averaged well above 5,000 every season, reaching sold-out crowds of a mindblowing 10,500 on certain nights. It was a superstar life. Walking around campus, downtown, and even the beach, people recognized you and showed their support. On away games, we often had more fans than the home team. We were appreciated not only as athletes but as a part of the community. What we did mattered to a lot of people. Representing UH meant representing the entire State of Hawai’i, which was both a responsibility and a privilege. When I joined the program, UH Men’s Volleyball had never won a National Championship. By the end of my time, I was a part of history winning the championship title not once, but twice.

As you might guess, the most unique part of being a college student in Hawai’i was the lifestyle. The variety of things to do in Hawai’i was unmatched by any other place. In the off-season, there was time to explore the Island(s) and spend the day on the beach or hiking waterfalls and mountains. Of course, most days were spent walking from class to practice in a tropical campus going from scorching sun to extreme flooding within 5 minutes – the rainbow showed up every day. The college experience at UH was top-notch academically and athletically and gave me a new benchmark for quality of life.

However, things weren’t always easy in paradise. My freshman year was a difficult time for me to learn and adjust to all aspects of life that college entailed. Sophomore year I was benched after a month of duties as a starting setter, followed by COVID at the turn of the tide of me getting back on the court. Like any other student-athlete, I went through personal struggles and threatening injuries, which for me, almost took me out the year we repeated as National Champions in ‘22, as well as the following season falling short in the NCAA final. Academically, I was forced to switch majors during COVID-19. Embracing adversity couldn’t be more real. Despite the difficulties, they were there to make me better. College gave me the first real tests.

In May 2023, 5 years later, my time in Hawai’i had come to an end. I graduated with not only a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science but a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning through the 4+1 program UH offered (thanks Covid). Athletically, I was part of a back-to-back National Championship run in 2021 and 2022, having played four consecutive finals in all four years, along with three Big West Conference titles. Individually, I signed off as a three-time All-American, Conference Player of the Year twice, AVCA National Player of the Year in my senior season, and received several other athletic and academic recognitions. A pretty decorated college career indeed.

Going home, my bags were packed with trophies and awards from my years as a student-athlete, but not just that. They were accompanied by lifelong relationships, a sense of belonging, and gratitude towards every experience that shaped me into the person I had become. These are the things that I am most thankful for. I grew a tight bond with the most special community and culture, which I will continue to represent for the rest of my life. I found myself in Hawai’i, and it had become my second home. As a volleyball player, I had a once-in-a-lifetime experience thanks to the professionalism and support from the university, the media, and most importantly, the fans. Now, I was prepared to bring everything I had lived for five years to professional volleyball and for what came after. One thing was certain, I would always return to the islands.

To wrap things up, if it was not for a small chat I had with Sandra during a National Championship in Norway, none of this would have happened. Sandra and VolleyUSA really provided the help and encouragement I needed through the recruiting process and college. My greatest advice? Have that chat. You never know where or how far it may take you. For me, it only changed my life.

With Aloha,