Quest for championship down to two
No. 2 seed Matadors (23-9) journey for a national title is down to two wins. Up first for CSUN is a semifinal match against No. 3 seed Penn State (23-7) Thursday night at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, Calif.
“We are so excited to be here, some of us have been training four, five years for this one moment,” senior outside hitter Mike Gaudino said. “Now it’s here and we have to soak it in and go out there and play. We have to remember how we got here and how we have to keep playing.”
The Matadors and Nittany Lions are familiar with each other having just played each other less than a month ago. Penn State made the trip out west and was rudely welcomed as the Matadors made quick work of the Nittany Lions with a straight set win at the Matadome on senior night. Senior outside hitter Theo Edwards had a team-high 12 kills, while senior All-American Kevin McKniff chipped in with 10 against Penn State. The Nittany Lions had a big match from senior outside hitter Will Price, who had a match-high 19 kills, fellow outside hitter sophomore Joe Sunder added 11.
“They know that we beat them already and for us it’s an advantage knowing that we are a better team than them,” Edwards said. “If we can do the same things and really exploit their weaknesses than we can win.”
It took 17 years but the Matadors are finally back in the NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship Tournament. The Matadors, who were swept by Stanford in the final of the MPSF Tournament last Saturday, received the at-large berth in the four-team national championship on Sunday. Northridge was slotted as the No. 2 seed after playing in the toughest league in the conference finishing tied for second with a 14-7 conference record.
“Honestly we need to have fun,” Edwards said. “This past weekend we were up there (Palo Alto, Calif.) in the championship we were tight… we were thinking too much. I think we forgot that this is a sport that we love and we are doing what we love to do so we need to go up there (Maples Pavilion) and have a good time.”
Penn State on the other hand is a perennial Final Four team. This year marks the 12 straight season that the Nittany Lions have made it to the NCAA National Semifinal match and the 25th time in the schools history. The last time CSUN and Penn State faced off in the NCAA National Tournament was the last time the Matadors made it this far in the postseason in 1993. The Matadors swept the Nitanny Lions (15-2, 15-5, 15-11).
The Nittany Lions received the automatic bid into the semifinals after sweeping Princeton in the championship match of the Eastern Collegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA). Penn State features a pair of All-Americans in senior middle blocker Max Lipsitz and junior libero Dennis Del Valle. Lipsitz and Del Valle have the honor of being selected as All-Americans three times in their career.
“It’s a good thing that we have seen them before but teams always play differently in playoffs so we are expecting a good fight out of them,” team captain Ali’i Keohohou said.
The Matadors should be used to playing at Maples Pavilion having played there three times, once during the regular season and twice in the MPSF tournament. The winner of the Matador-Nittany Lion match will take on the winner of the other semifinal match between No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 4 seed Ohio State in the Championship match at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“It’s definitely good, we know the gym, we know that there are no weird lights and we know where the crowd is going to be seated and where the benches are. So it’s good to have the experience of playing there,” Gaudino said.