Men’s volleyball: Inexperienced Matador offense falters in playoffs, falls in straight sets
CSUN couldn’t find a rhythm on offense in its MPSF Tournament first-round match-up against No. 1 USC and saw its season come to an end as it fell in straight sets to the overpowering Trojan offense.
Northridge, the tournament’s eighth seed, only hit .012 against USC. CSUN’s offensive leaders sophomore Brandon Lebrock and freshman Julius Hoefer only combined to tally 12 kills.
“When you go into playoffs, you need your best player to be killing balls,” CSUN head coach Jeff Campbell said. “Our two best players were bad. We weren’t good to the point where we needed to be to win ball games. I think it’s that simple.”
Both Lebrock and Hoefer failed to hit for a positive percentage while the Trojans’ Tony Ciarelli hammered home 12 of the Trojans’ 38 kills.
Junior John Baker led the Matadors after replacing Hoefer and added four kills on .333 hitting.
“Most of (CSUN) didn’t have playoff experience,” Baker said. “Only myself and (Drew) Staker are the only ones that have felt that kind of experience.”
USC’s offense gathered 18 block assists on the night compared to the Matadors’ two.
CSUN kept it close in the early parts of the first set, but four straight aces by Ciarelli extended the Trojans’ lead to 16-9.
“We were scoring points and I think we did a nice job of scoring points when we were serving, but it was just siding out that we struggled with most,” Campbell said.
Northridge tried to battle its way back into the set, but horrid passing off the net left CSUN in bad shape offensively.
USC continued its offensive onslaught in the frame and hit .556 as a team with Ciarelli and Steven Mochalski tallying three kills apiece.
Lebrock had five kills in the opening frame, but it took 15 swings to achieve them.
CSUN came out with more fire in the second and jumped to a 7-3 advantage, but saw the lead dissolve and forced Campbell to call a timeout.
Lebrock helped CSUN take the lead back out of the timeout with strong serves, but the USC defense made the necessary plays to slow any momentum the Matadors thought they had.
Northridge was unable to side out once again with Ciarelli serving and fell behind by as many as six before finally figuring out how to penetrate the USC middles.
“When Tony (Ciarelli) was serving, we were having problems,” Campbell said. “We had a shot at passing better, but we just didn’t and I chalk that up to our guys not having very much experience.
Lebrock and Hoefer couldn’t find the court, so Campbell was forced to bring in Baker and seldom-used outside hitter Cory Wagner in hopes of finding an offensive spark.
Baker had previous playoff experience from his freshman year with the Matadors.
The senior made an instant impact on the court, but Northridge hit an atrocious -.273 in the frame with the USC defense notching 10 block assists.
CSUN avoided another flat frame in the third with the help of freshman Travis Magorien at setter.
“I just tried to maintain a positive attitude,” Magorien said. “We were lacking a little fire and no one was really pumped so I tried to get them all in it together.”
Magorien could only do so much at setter for CSUN and the No. 1 seed’s offense overwhelmed the Northridge defense.
USC’s offense was relentless and continued its hot hitting in the third frame with a .448 percentage.
“When we got the ball to the net I think we were doing OK,” Campbell said.
Despite the helpful changes to the lineup, CSUN failed to muster enough offense in the third and fell to the Trojans, 25-18, its season ending in a sweep from a superior opponent.
“You could tell we were very timid on the court tonight,” Baker said. “We were very out of our element and comfort zone and it showed.”