2007 Preview: Matadors Face Another Tough Schedule

Ivan Yeo

Following a bounce-back season in 2006, the CSUN Matador women’s volleyball team enters the 2007 season hoping its continued development results in a trip back to the postseason.

After a dismal 2005 season that saw CSUN fall to the 20-loss plateau for the first time in a decade, a Matador team that consisted mostly of freshmen that year looked to yield better results the following year, and did just that, going from 4-23 in 2005 to 16-12 the following year, including a 7-7 mark in conference play, which tied with UC Irvine for fifth in the Big West. The Matadors now have their sights set on further improvement, which they hope will lead to its first NCAA tournament berth since 2004.

” I think if you just worry about getting better day to day, the win-loss stuff will take care of itself,” said head coach Jeff Stork.

CSUN will have to go at it without middle blocker Darla Donaldson, the team’s leader in kills and blocks in 2006. Donaldson, an All-Big West first team member last season, transferred to Texas A’M University last spring.

Stork will look to fill the gap left by Donaldson’s transfer by utlilizing the play of its outside hitters, led by junior Harmony Burdine and sophomore Siara Grayson. Burdine, also an All-Big West first team member last year, was second on the team in kills (282) while hitting at a .174 percentage last season. Grayson was fourth in kills (236) while hitting .179. Also expected to contribute at outside hitter is Alex Johnson, a freshman out of Westlake High School who was named the Ventura County Star’s player of the year in 2006. Stork says all three players are progressing nicely.

“While it’s a loss to lose Darla, I think the benefit and the gains that we’ve gotten from our three outside hitters is going to help us long term,” Stork said.

Sophomore Angela Hupp did a little bit of everything last year for CSUN. Hupp played as an outside hitter and setter last year and proved to be effective at both. Hupp led the team with 609 set assists and also smashed 236 kills while hitting .180, which ranked third on the team. Her efforts landed her Big West Freshman of the year honors.

The Matadors are also expecting to receive help on the outside from juniors Jenn Probert, who missed time last year due to a hand injury, Alice Wang Xin and Kristy Nua and freshmen Cara Crowder, Chelsea Johnson and Brittany Williams.

Junior Val Kepler and freshman Lynda Morales look to fill the gap left by Donaldson at middle blocker, junior Kayla Wright solidifies the setter position, as do juniors Kelley Hanson and Amy Hultner at libero.

The schedule as in the past will be a tough one, as the Matadors face seven opponents that are ranked in the Preseason CSTV/AVCA Division I Top 25 Coaches Poll. CSUN’s first test will come in its season opener, as it faces eighth-ranked Washington in the Husky Classic on Aug. 25. Next the Matadors will face sixth-ranked USC on Aug. 31 at the USC Classic Tournament, then two days later, will face 18th-ranked Duke. The Matadors will also face fifth-ranked UCLA and 15th-ranked San Diego, the reigning West Coast Conference champion, in the University of San Diego Tournament on Sept. 14-15.

Two Big West Conference schools are also ranked in the poll. Conference champion Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is ranked 14th and Long Beach State is ranked 19th. Also on the Matadors schedule is Sacramento State, which will be gunning for its 11th straight Big Sky Conference title, and perennial Big West power UC Santa Barbara. Both teams received votes in the CSTV/AVCA poll.

One potential disadvantage is that CSUN will not play a home game until Sept. 28. In fact, the Matadors’ first home game that night will also be its first Big West Conference game, when it hosts UC Irvine at 7 p.m.

“I’m going to typically err on the side of strength of schedule and tough it out and hope for some good victories,” Stork said.

The Matadors will start off its season against Fresno State at the Husky Classic in Seattle, Wash. on Friday at 5 p.m. Tournament play continues on Saturday with CSUN facing San Francisco at 1 p.m. and Washington at 7 p.m.