The second-ranked Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team had their record-setting win streak snapped on Tuesday night in a 3-1 upset by No. 9 UC Irvine 28-30, 30-24, 42-40, 30-18 at the Bren Center.
“We knew Irvine was a good team,” said head coach Jeff Campbell. “Every match we play, we have to play our best. We played below average in this match.”
Despite having four players in double-digits for kills, CSUN hit just .199 as a team.
“For us to win, we need to hit over .300,” Campbell said.
Senior Issac Kneubuhl and junior Eric Vance had 17 kills each in the match, but Kneubuhl hit just .173 and Vance was held to a .070 hitting clip. Kneubuhl also had 10 digs for a double double. Sophomore Kevin McKniff knocked down 15 kills and hit .393 and sophomore Mike Gaudino had 11 kills, hitting at .172. Senior setter Travis Bluemling had 51 set assists and sophomore Ali’i Keohohou had a team-high 11 digs.
The Anteaters had to be at their best to pull off the upset and several players set career-highs. Junior Jon Stellar hit a match-high 27 kills and put up a career-high seven block assists. Freshman outside hitter Jordon DeFault knocked down 16 kills, along with his career-high 12 digs and career-high seven block assists. Freshman setter Anthony Spittle posted a career-high 55 set assists in the match.
As a team, Irvine hit at .348 and put up 21 blocks, compared to just 7.5 by the Matadors.
The amount of blocks by the Anteaters was a result of poor setting and hitting, Campbell said.
“We didn’t better the ball. Our passing was okay, but our setting was erratic,” Campbell said.
The first game of the match stayed close until the Matadors pulled ahead after a 15-15 tie and extended that lead to 24-19 on a kill by Gaudino. Irvine was able to come back and tied the score at 25-25 on a kill by Aaron Harrell. After service errors from both teams, Kneubuhl smashed a kill to put the game away for the Matadors 30-28.
Game two looked like it belonged to CSUN in the beginning, as the Matadors took an early 4-1 lead. The Anteaters closed the gap and tied the score at 7-7 and the game remained close until Irvine went ahead at 19-18 and extended it to 27-20. The Matadors couldn’t recover from the run and lost 30-24.
Game three was a marathon, with the two teams trading points after CSUN had the lead at 15-11. Irvine tied the game at 24-24 and the game would be tied 14 more times before it was over. The Anteaters won 42-40 in what was the third longest game in MPSF history. The second longest game was a 43-41 game played last week between CSUN and Hawai’i. The longest game at 45-43 took place in 2007 between Pepperdine and CSUN.
The Matadors seemed to be out of steam in game four and the Anteaters won easily at 30-18.
Northridge was playing without middle blocker Cody Loe, who, in addition to being injured, has been serving a four-game suspension for breaking team rules.
“With Cody, we are much stronger,” Campbell said.
The offense is designed around all of the key players and when one is taken out, you can’t continue to have the same offense, Campbell said, adding that Loe will return for Friday’s match against UCLA.
“We feel a lot more confident with Cody in there,” Campbell said.
The loss snapped the Matadors’ record winning streak that stretched to 14 games over the last two months. With just three matches left in the regular season, every match is important for tournament seeding purposes, Campbell said.
The Matadors were alone in first place as of last week, but are now in a three-way tie with Long Beach State and BYU. Still, it is the best regular season that CSUN has had in 33 years, Campbell said.
“We still feel very good about the team and what we’ve accomplished,” Campbell said.
The Matadors are now 20-5 overall and 15-4 in conference play.
Northridge plays its last regular season road match on Friday when the Matadors head to Westwood to take on the seventh-ranked UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion.