CSUN men’s volleyball outlasts No. 6 Stanford in first five-set match of the season


Edward Segal

Jano Tello jumps for the ball as the Matadors attack in their 3-2 victory over the Stanford Cardinals at the Premier America Credit Union Arena on Feb. 3, 2023.

Edward Segal, Sports Editor

The loss to Vanguard on Wednesday may have been what the Matadors needed to fuel them in their match against sixth-seeded Stanford. After getting shut out for their third straight loss, CSUN came to play against the Cardinals with a fresh burst of energy and squeezed out the victory in five sets.

This was the Matadors’ fifth victory in the last six matches against the Cardinals (6-2), dating back to 2017. CSUN lost four matches to USC and UCLA this season, taking only one set from the powerhouses. The Matadors (5-5) hung their hats on the scrappiness of the team. CSUN collected 61 digs, good for the most they have had per set in a match this season.

“We’ve been talking all year about grit and just playing together as a team and that’s exactly what happened tonight,” outside hitter Kyle Hobus said. “It was a grind out there. There were some long rallies, but everyone was determined enough to finish the sets and that’s a really good team we just played, so this one feels really good.”

The Matadors fell behind 3-0 early, and cracked the scoreboard when a Stanford serve hit the net. This Cardinals error started a 5-0 Matadors run capped off by a kill from Hobus, which was made possible by a diving dig from setter Donovan Constable.

The Matadors built a 13-9 lead, but their service errors caught up with them. Two of CSUN’s serves hit the net, allowing Stanford to come within one. The attack error that followed gave the Cardinals the 17-16 lead and enough momentum to run away with the set.

Set two was the tightest of the bunch, with no team ever leading by more than two.

The teams exchanged blows until the Cardinals led 5-4. The Matadors secured two points in three straight long rallies, completing several digs to keep the plays alive. Jano Tello and Lorenzo Bertozzi ran to the back wall and toward the stands, making many saves to keep the Matadors alive.

CSUN fell behind 15-13 later in the set, but came roaring back with three straight points after a kill by Hobus.

The back-and-forth continued until two errors from outside hitter Kevin Lamp brought the Matadors to set point. The crowd started a drumroll and watched as outside hitter Griffin Walters collected a service ace, the ball bouncing off Cardinals and landing on the ground as the Matadors won the set, 26-24.

“Taylan, Lorenzo, Don [Constable], everybody out on the court had some amazing digs,” Hobus said. “It makes it really easy for us to want to play for each other when guys are making plays. This is a family, that’s what we always say, so it means a lot.”

In the third set, with the score 1-1, the crowd erupted when what was probably the longest point of the set went the Matadors’ way after numerous saves led to a kill by Malcolm King. The crowd cheered louder after every point as the Matadors raced out to a 11-6 lead.

CSUN continued putting the Cardinals into tough situations, forcing them to hit the ball long and wide on multiple occasions. The Matadors’ lead rose to as much as five in the set, but the Cardinals responded with a 6-0 run and escaped with the 25-22 set win.

The Matadors walked out for set four needing a win to stay alive. Fatigue kicked in for both sides as they exchanged service errors. Plays became a lot shorter, and players became content to let them go a lot faster.

A team effort allowed the Matadors to dominate the Cardinals and even the match. Four players had kills for CSUN in the fourth set, giving them 18 as a team. Walters led the way with seven in the set, while Hobus had five.

“That’s the heart and soul of our team,” head coach Theo Edwards said. “Kyle, TC [Cook], Griffin, these guys are the leaders. These are the guys that we really rely on. They were obviously the difference for us tonight, and they’re going to be the difference for us this whole year, so they had a big match and it was really exciting to see them play well.”

The fifth set was another back-and-forth affair. The Matadors led 7-6 when Stanford made several hustle plays to save the rally, but Cook made a one-handed dig to set up an attack error by outside hitter Will Rottman, putting CSUN up by two.

Three Stanford kills and two Matador errors contributed to a near-momentum shift that saw the Cardinals take the 11-10 lead.

Two kills and a service ace put the Matadors back on top, 14-12, setting up match point.

The crowd got on its feet and grew louder than ever in the final two rallies. Bertozzi came up with a dig, but the ball flew out of bounds, giving the Cardinals a point back. Lamp served for the Cardinals and hit the net to give the Matadors the victory.

“I think if you were to really do an assessment, the guys changed,” Edwards said. “They took a look at themselves in the mirror a little bit and realized that we don’t get days off, and I think we came out tonight, and we were incredibly hungry and looking to redeem ourselves a bit and that was the difference.”

Several Matadors set career highs. A balanced attacking and defensive effort put them over the edge.

Hobus drove in 21 kills and a season-high eight digs on the night, while Walters equalled his career-high 17 kills and chipped in eight digs as well. Bertozzi set his career-high in kills with 12, while adding 11 digs to earn his first career double-double. Tello added seven kills to the Matadors’ total, while King set his own career high with five blocks. Constable set a career high in assists with 56. He contributed 13 digs, while Taylan Cook led the team with 20.

“We reset every single point,” Cook said. “The ball hits the floor, it’s the next point every single time.”

The team will get four days off before traveling to New Jersey for a three-game road trip, starting at Princeton on Feb. 8 and ending with back-to-back games from Feb. 10-11.