Northridge will face the second best team in the Big West when it hosts UC Santa Barbara this Tuesday at the Matadome.
The Gauchos are coming off a three-set win over Long Beach State and improved its record to 18-5, 8-3 in the Big West just behind UC Davis (18-7, 9-2 Big West) for first place in the conference.
“We’ve done pretty well against Santa Barbara in the last couple years,” CSUN head coach Jeff Stork said. “They do certain things real well. (Their) first contact is very good.”
This will be the first match between the two teams this season. The Gauchos defeated the Matadors both meetings last season, the first in five sets and the second time in just three.
Santa Barbara is currently riding a four-game win streak with their last lost dating back to Oct. 17 when UC Davis defeated the Gauchos in five sets.
It will be a battle at the tape between Northridge and Santa Barbara, with the Matadors ranking second as a team in blocks in the Big West and the Gauchos topping the kills category.
Leading the way for the Gauchos is senior outside hitter Rebecca Saraceno who is currently the best attacker of the Big West, statistically. Saraceno tops the category with 429 kills, Erin Saddler of Cal State Fullerton trails with 361 kills.
“They like to ride (Rebecca) Saraceno,” Stork said. “They also do a good job with the jump serve. But hopefully they are tired after (last) weekend.”
Saraceno will have to work her way around CSUN senior middle blocker Tela Burnett who leads Northridge in blocks (95 total) and currently ranks second in the Big West in the category as an individual.
Santa Barbara ranks last as a team in the blocks list, and does not have any representation on the individuals’ list. And in a sport where a block can directly result in a point, Northridge may have a slight edge over Santa Barbara.
Northridge’s back row defense should also help supplement its weaker offense. The Matadors have done a better job this season playing defense in the back row over the Gauchos.
Although Gaucho Chelsey Lowe, a sophomore libero, outranks Matador freshmen libero Monica McFarland in the Big West on the individual digs list, as a team Northridge has accumulated more successful digs than Santa Barbara.
“I’m excited,” outside hitter and team captain Angela Hupp said of the upcoming match. “There’s always been a little rivalry with (them). I mean, there should always be emotion, but there’s just more (now).”
Saraceno also has 250 digs, 30 total blocks and 27 aces. Joining Saraceno on the Gaucho offensive front is sophomore middle blocker Stacey Schmidt with 214 kills.
If the Gauchos continue on their current path they may get the chance to break into the NCAA Top-25 as well as take the top spot in the conference when they play Davis for the second time on Nov. 13.
Northridge looks to be a major roadblock in that path.
Hupp still leads the team in kills (294), and with outside hitter Britney Graff injured, junior Brittany Williams has taken over as the No.2 best hitter with 237 kills.
Sophomore setter Sam Orlandini leads in aces (24) and assists (708), while freshmen Monica McFarland has staked her claim in the back row leading the Matadors with 332 digs.
“I want us to feel like we did in game two and four (against Bakersfield). We played free,” Hupp said. “We know how to do it, we just need to do it.”
The Matadors will face off against UC Riverside and UC Irvine on the road this weekend.