The seventh-ranked CSUN Matador men’s volleyball team started out its spring break in a good way, defeating the Stanford Cardinal and the Pacific Tigers, both in four games in its final two 2007 home matches at the Matadome.
Northridge stumbled in its trip up the 101 North to UC Santa Barbara, as the fifth-ranked Gauchos took down the Matadors in straight sets by scores of 30-24, 31-29 and 30-21. The loss to UCSB now leaves the Matadors with little room for error heading into its final two matches of the 2007 regular season.
Against Stanford on March 30, the Matadors won the first two games and quickly recovered from a third-game loss to take the fourth game and the match. CSUN won a hotly-contested game one 30-27 and seized control in the middle stages of game two, jumping out to an 18-11 lead and cruising on to a 30-23 win.
In game three, the Matadors looked like they were going to pull off the sweep, leading 24-19 until Stanford caught lightning in a bottle, winning the next seven sets to take a 26-24 lead. The seven-point spurt was all Stanford needed, as they held off the Matadors 30-28 to keep themselves alive in the match. Stanford’s game three win however only delayed the inevitable, as CSUN quickly reasserted control of the match in game four, jumping out to a 10-4 lead. CSUN led by as many as 10 points in game four and eventually won 30-20 to take the match.
The following night on March 31, the Matadors took the court against the Pacific Tigers, but this time, the Matadors got off to a slow start, losing the first game 32-30, but eventually recovered to take the final three games by scores of 35-33, 30-19 and 30-24 to complete a sweep of the Northern California programs.
Before the match, the team held a brief pre-game ceremony to honor its two seniors on the team, middle blocker James Lischer and opposite Dan Rhodes, both of whom were playing their final regular season games at the Matadome. The first game against Pacific, just like the first game against Stanford was hotly contested. The Matadors led 18-14, but following a Tiger timeout, Pacific won six of the next eight sets to tie the game at 20. Pacific eventually took the lead and raised it to 25-21 before the Matadors came back to tie at 26. The game eventually went into sudden death, and with the game tied at 30, the Tigers’ Pekka Seppanen smashed consecutive kills to steal game one for Pacific.
The script repeated itself in game two, only this time, the Matadors found a way to pull out the win. CSUN led 14-9 until the Tigers ran off five straight sets to tie the game. From there, it was nip-and-tuck, as both teams kept each other within sight. Pacific actually held a 29-27 lead, but the Matadors won consecutive sets to stay alive and force another sudden death. The Tigers had four more chances to close out game two, but the Matadors stayed alive each time, then a kill by Lischer gave CSUN a 34-33 lead and Rhodes slammed the door shut in game two and evened the match at one apiece.
Game three looked like de ja vu all over again, as the match was tied at 16 until the Matadors caught fire, winning the next six sets to assert control. The Tigers never recovered, as CSUN cruised to a 30-19 win. The Matadors held the mead for most of game four, and though Pacific fought desperately to stay with Northridge, they could never get them to wilt, as the Matadors held on for a 30-24 win.
Rhodes led the way for the Matadors with 21 kills while junior outside hitter Isaac Kneubuhl had 17 kills and freshman outside hitter Mike Gaudino had 17 kills. Lischer had eight kills, but they came at important stretches of each of the four games.
The Matadors’ two wins left them one win away from clinching its sixth straight appearance in the Mountain-Pacific Sports Federation playoffs, however, the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos weren’t going to let them celebrate at their expense, as the host Gauchos swept the Matadors by scores of 30-24, 31-29 and 30-21 on April 6. The Gauchos won game one by hitting for a .486 percentage. In game two, CSUN actually led 29-25 until the Gauchos came alive, winning six straight sets to steal the second game. The Matadors never recovered, as UC Santa Barbara took control of game three early and went on to the win and the sweep.
Despite the loss, the Matadors still maintain sole possession of sixth place in the MPSF with a record of 16-13, 10-10 in conference play. The Matadors will try one-more time to solidify a postseason slot, but that task won’t be easy, as the Matadors travel to Malibu to take on the No.1 ranked Pepperdine Waves at Firestone Fieldhouse on Thursday April 12 at 7 p.m., followed by a trip to the Lyon Center to face the USC Trojans on Saturday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m.