It’s been three years since the CSUN women’s volleyball team has had a winning season. For the upcoming 2009 year, the team is looking to improve substantially on last year’s disappointing 9-21 record, during which it won only two home games.
“It was a mixed season last year,” said head coach Jeff Stork, who is in his eighth season with the Matadors. “We started off strong, lost seven straight (conference) matches, then beat the No. 23 team in the nation (Long Beach State in the season finale).”
Stork, along with assistant coach Susie Terrusa, is planning on becoming more of a contender in the Big West Conference. To make that happen, the team has been running two-a-days for the past few weeks, with weight training in between practice sessions.
Last season, the Matadors faced one of their toughest schedules to date, including a handful of top-20 nationally-ranked teams. The difficult 2008 schedule resulted in a 12-match losing streak (four of the 12 losses were five-set matches). This season’s schedule may be less challenging, but Stork says that the Big West is always a strong conference.
CSUN, ranked seventh out of nine teams in a preseason Big West poll, graduated five seniors last spring, including Val Kepler, the team’s dominant solo blocker. However, the team is returning its three biggest offensive weapons, including possibly the best player on the team, 6-foot-1 senior outside hitter Angela Hupp.
“We (the coaches) ask Angela to do a lot,” Stork said. “We ask her to pass every ball, set every ball, hit every ball. To be a leader.”
Hupp welcomes the pressure and has even learned to embrace it.
“I hope the team can look to me for anything, on and off the court,” she said. “I want them to be able to pick me up when I’m down and the other way around.”
Hupp led the 2008 team in kills last season with 323 and was named First Team All-Big West, with 86 blocks and 248 digs. This year, she leads a team that is also returning six juniors. Included in this group are Brittany Williams and Siara Grayson, both outside hitters, and Lynda Morales, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker. Combined with Hupp, these players make up a significant part of the Matadors’ offense.
Accompanying Hupp and the other hitters is sophomore setter Sam Orlandini, who was awarded a spot on the 2009 Big West All-Freshman team. Orlandini is a young player with high expectations.
“I want to be stronger, quicker, smarter and put the ball in more hittable spots,” said Orlandini, who ended last season with 857 assists.
Rounding out the team are three incoming freshmen and two walk-on players.
However, for a successful CSUN season, it’s going to take a lot more than just power at the net.
“There are six skills in volleyball (footwork, teamwork, serves, ball movement, blocks and attacks), we want to be good at every one,” Stork said. “We want to focus on sideout and transition scoring.”
According to Stork, one of the team’s biggest weaknesses is a defensively dominating presence at the net: blocking. Due to persistent injuries at the position and a weak left-side block, the team has had to make up for poor blocking with a superior defensive back row. Their saves could give the team another chance at running offense.
The team will get the chance to implement its new strategies when it starts its season with three consecutive tournaments. After that, the Matadors will have more non-conference games, including matches against Loyola Marymount, Fresno State and Portland. The latter two will be played at the Matadome.
Conference play begins on Sept. 25 with a road match against UC Davis. The Matadors’ next home game is not scheduled until three weeks later when they play UC Irvine on Oct. 6. Irvine will present a big challenge for the conference home debut as the Anteaters were ranked second in the Big West’s preseason poll.
“Every team is a challenge,” said Stork, who is no fan of rankings. “We have to have confidence in ourselves, regardless of who is on the other side of the net.”
In the end, the general consensus among players and coach was clear: to improve from last year’s record. For the Matadors, it is a simple yet momentous goal.
“The last game of last season (a 3-2 win over the 49ers) really summed up the season,” Hupp said. “We worked hard, and that really gave us motivation for this season. “I want us to finish this season in the top half of the conference and to walk off the court knowing that we did our best.”