The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Matadors handle business against winless Marauders

CSUN’s bench celebrates as the Matadors score a point against the Central State Marauders at the Premier America Credit Union Arena on Saturday, Jan. 27 in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

The shift from 11th-ranked University of Southern California to winless Central State University couldn’t have been any greater for CSUN men’s volleyball.

The Matadors entered the game against the Marauders following a five-set battle against the Trojans in which CSUN barely eked out a victory. The Marauders, who are in their third season as a volleyball program, put up a fight but fell in three sets as the Matadors showed they can beat teams at opposite ends of the spectrum.

“It’s always a challenge, right?” head coach Theo Edwards said. “You come off of a big win and try to find a way to be consistent, and obviously to refocus and play good volleyball, and I feel like we did that for stretches tonight.”

The Matadors improved to 5-3 on the season and have won four of their last five. This victory allowed CSUN to remain undefeated against unranked opponents as they handed the Marauders, who have won only one set all season, their ninth loss.

CSUN came out of the gate with guns blazing as they scored the first four points of the game. The Marauders made it 10-7 thanks to five errors from the Matadors, most of which came on serves. But CSUN’s ensuing 5-0 run allowed them to put the first set out of reach.

After winning the first set 25-16, the Matadors raced out to a 5-1 lead in the second and never looked back, taking a 2-0 set lead as they looked to shut out Central State.

The third set started out very differently, as the Marauders took a 5-3 lead on four errors from the Matadors. But a 6-0 run by CSUN ensured the Matadors would walk away with a three-set victory.

Games like this allow the Matadors to reflect on things they need to fix before they face opponents more likely to make them pay for their mistakes. CSUN had 19 service errors, which allowed the Marauders to keep each set closer than the Matadors would have hoped.

Matadors libero Taylan Cook secures the ball and bumps it to junior Donovan Constable, who gets ready to set the ball so the Matadors can go for the kill against the Central State Marauders on Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Premier America Credit Union Arena in Northridge, Calif. (Edward Segal)

“The serving consistency’s a big thing, and we’re talking about it quite a bit,” Edwards said. “We’re working on finding that balance between serving, which is incredibly tough, and putting pressure on the other team, but also finding that consistency of keeping our rhythm and keeping us going.”

The Marauders didn’t have enough of an attack game to convert on those errors and apply significant pressure, giving CSUN a chance to shine a light on this issue so they can address it before their next pair of matches against Stanford University.

CSUN also did many things right, allowing them to keep each set out of reach despite the errors. The Matadors had 34 kills, twice as many as Central State. Redshirt senior Kyle Hobus and sophomore Malcolm King each put up six, but it was redshirt freshman Jalen Phillips who led the way with seven.

Phillips is up to 100 kills on the season, more than everyone on the Matadors, including Hobus. Phillips is sixth in kills/set in the Big West, and has come into his own faster than most people probably expected. His rapid development gives the Matadors someone to build around once players like Hobus graduate.

“I think my focus for this season was really not to do anything crazy, but my focus was just getting better with each game,” Phillips said. “I think that focus really took the pressure off, and just allowed me to focus on getting better from game to game, rather than trying to score a certain amount of points or something like that.”

Another player who often flies under the radar for the Matadors is junior Donovan Constable, the leader in the Big West in assists/set with 10.07. Constable eclipsed 300 assists after putting up 22 against the Marauders. Even though the number is staggering for a three-set match, it is his season low outside the California Lutheran University game, in which he only played two sets.

“The success has come from staying locked in for the entire set at a time and not being distracted by anything outside of that, and just feeding the hot hitter always,” the setter from Clovis said.

Last season, Constable racked up 820 assists in 91 sets, but is on pace to surpass 900 this year.

With the core of Hobus, Phillips and Constable, the Matadors can make a deep run in the Big West tournament if they can limit their service errors and play consistently.

“At this level, and with these top teams, everyone’s physical, it’s who can win the mental battle,” Constable said. “I think, at the end of the day, if we can stay locked in, we can do some great things.”

The Matadors have two games in two days at Stanford Friday and Saturday as they look to remain undefeated against unranked opponents.

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