The eighth-ranked CSUN Matador men’s volleyball team will have to wait until its regular season finale to clinch a spot in the Mountain-Pacific Sports Federation playoffs.
For the second straight match, Northridge saw its playoff chances dashed by another opponent, and it was the top-ranked Pepperdine Waves that delayed the Matadors’ postseason aspirations, as the Waves defeated the Matadors in straight sets at Firestone Fieldhouse by scores of 30-25, 30-28 and 30-25.
“I think we played pretty tough against (Pepperdine),” senior opposite Dan Rhodes said. “They’re not ranked number one for no reason.”
Rhodes led CSUN with 15 kills, though he was the only Matador in double figures in kills. Junior setter Travis Bluemling assisted 26 kills while freshman Sean Pederson had 16 assists and sophomore outside hitter Eric Vance had 10 digs. Pepperdine was led by 18 kills from Paul Carroll, 17 kills from J.D. Schleppenbach and 43 set assists from Jonathan Winder.
In game one, Pepperdine got on the board first on a stuff block by Greg Gaudino, brother of Matador freshman outside hitter Mike Gaudino, and Jon Grobe. Northridge though won the next five sets to take a 5-1 lead, forcing a Waves timeout. Pepperdine was quick to respond, winning six of the next eight points to tie at seven.
Rhodes sent a hit into Pepperdine’s back area to regain the lead for CSUN, who then traded the next six sets to keep themselves ahead, the last time at 11-10, but back-to-back Matador hitting errors gave Pepperdine the lead, then after Gaudino tied the game, kills by Carroll and Schleppenbach gave Pepperdine a 14-12 lead, forcing a CSUN timeout.
CSUN stayed with Pepperdine, getting to within one several times, the last time at 23-22, but the Waves won the next three sets to force a Matador timeout, and Pepperdine won four of seven after the break to take game one.
In game two, Pepperdine held an 8-7 lead, then took control with a 4-1 run to take a 12-8 lead. The Waves won three of four following the break to lead 15-9. The Matadors won the next three points, but Pepperdine followed with its own three-point run to build its advantage back to six at 18-12.
Following a CSUN timeout, the Matadors answered loudly, winning five points in a row to cut the lead to 18-17, forcing a Pepperdine timeout. The Waves lead stayed around the next eight sets, but Pepperdine then won three straight to take a 25-21 lead. CSUN made one last run, cutting the lead to 25-24, but the Waves eventually hung on to take game two.
Game three saw the Matadors jump out early to start for a change. Tied at four, Northridge won three of the next four sets to take an 8-5 lead. CSUN then held a 10-6 advantage, but the Waves chipped away at the Matador lead, cutting it to 12-10, then winning the next four sets to take a 14-12 lead, forcing a CSUN timeout.
Pepperdine led 16-15 when Carroll looked like he had dug out a Matador attack by sliding his hand underneath the ball before it hit the court, but the officials ruled that the ball indeed touched the court before Carroll got his hand under the ball, so instead of a 17-15 Pepperdine lead, game three was instead tied at 16.
Pepperdine appeared to be rattled by the call, as the Matadors won three of the next four sets to take a 19-17 lead, forcing a Waves timeout, but it turned out to be only temporary, as consecutive kills by Carroll tied the game at 19 and Winder gave the Waves the lead on the next set. Pepperdine led 21-20, but the Matadors tied the game on the next set and an Eric Vance kill gave Northridge a 22-21 lead, but it was CSUN’s last lead of the night, as the Waves won five of the next six sets to lead 26-23.
Rhodes went off a Pepperdine block to stop the run and a Waves’ hitting error brought CSUN back to within one, but the Waves would not be denied, as it won four points, the last two on Carroll kills, to take the game and the match.
“We had a lot of positives to look forward to tonight,” Rhodes said. “We did well in serving, passing, and blocking.”
The negative for Northridge was it’s hitting, as the Matadors hit .184 the entire match and game two (.216) was the only game where CSUN’s hitting percentage rise over .200.
If you hit .184, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose,” head coach Jeff Campbell said. “Our setter/hitter combinations didn’t go our way,”
The Matadors’ loss to the Waves set up a critical match with the USC Trojans at the Lyon Center this past Saturday night.
Playoff implications for the Matador’s showdown with the Trojans ranged from deciding who hosts a potential play-in game between the two teams tomorrow night to who finishes sixth in the MPSF to who could actually the playoffs altogether pending the outcome of the Pacific’s weekend series with the BYU Cougars.
The Tigers hold the tiebreaker advantage over the Matadors, though USC has the advantage over Pacific. Both teams also need the Tigers to lose one of its two matches with the Cougars to clinch respective playoff spots.