PALO ALTO, Calif. — A dreadful first set by the Matadors set the tone for the rest of the match, as Stanford overpowered CSUN 3-0 (24-30, 28-30, 17-30) to win the MPSF Championship on Saturday night at Maples Pavilion.
With the loss to Stanford, the Matadors lost the automatic bid to nationals but on Sunday morning the team received the news that they were selected as the at-large team for this week’s four-team NCAA National Tournament Championship.
“We are all excited to make it this far…it’s a good feeling to work this hard all year and have it pay off,” senior outside hitter Mike Gaudino said.
The Matadors go into the National Tournament as the No. 2 seed and will play No. 3 seed Penn State on Thursday, May 6, at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, Calif.
“For us to take care of Penn State we are going to have to be consistent and stay mentally focused,” Gaudino said. “They are a good team with a lot of playoff experience so we are going to have to be ready.”
After the match head coach Jeff Campbell did not want to speculate about nationals, instead he spoke about what went wrong in the teams 3-0 loss to the Cardinal.
“We didn’t play very well in game one and we were just kind of flat,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Stanford… I thought they were sharp in the whole match and they were definitely the better team tonight.”
Senior middle blocker Jacek Ratajczak led the way for the Matadors in a losing effort with 15 kills, nine of which came in the second set. Fellow middle blocker Kevin McKniff chipped in with eight kills.
“Great atmosphere here (Maples Pavilion), the crowd is relentless and we kind of let them get to us a little bit, which is out of our character,” redshirt freshman John Baker said on how it affected the team playing in front of the Cardinal fans.
To start the match Stanford jumped out to a 17-5 first set lead. The tide began to slowly change as the Matadors cut the lead down to 20-10 midway through the frame. CSUN then put together an 8-0 run thanks to Baker’s serving that forced the Cardinal into five attack errors and trimmed the Stanford advantage to 20-18.
The 12-point lead that the Cardinal had build became too much of an obstacle, as the Matadors were outscored by Stanford the rest of the frame 10-6 and dropped the first set 30-24.
“Baker was really going for his serves,” senior outside hitter Theo Edwards said. “He (Baker) kind of got into a grove for a little bit but we were down by a lot at the beginning, so it was tough to really get back and win that game. Had we not been down we probably would have won that game.”
Building of the momentum from their play late in the first set the Matadors went toe-to-toe with the Cardinal to begin the second set. With the score tied at 11, back-to-back attack errors by Stanford gave the Matadors a slim two-point lead.
A 5-2 burst by the Cardinal tied things up at 16 but the Matadors responded with a kill from Ratajczak, followed by a block from Gaudino got the lead back up to two. CSUN maintained the slim advantage for most of frame until a run by the Cardinal not only tied the game at 27 but a point later was able to take the lead.
The Matadors knotted the match a point later on a kill by McKniff but an attack error from CSUN and a controversial tip by the Matadors gave the Cardinal a commanding 2-0 lead with a score of 30-28.
After dropping a tough second set the Matadors had no energy in the third set once again falling behind by as many as eight (18-11) midway through the set. The Matadors were unable to recover and lost the third set by a whoping 13 points at 30-17.
“We just have to remember that this is the big stage and you don’t get another shot so we have to come out every game ready to play every single time,” McKniff said of what is going to take to see the Cardinal in the national championship game. “We have to be more competitive and take advantage of opportunities that come our way.”
The other semifinal on Thursday, May 6, has No. 1 seed Stanford hosting No. 4 seed Ohio State with the winner advancing to take on the winner of CSUN and Penn State Saturday, May 8, at 4 p.m.