Matadors shake road woes at SB

Victor Corona

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Struggling on the road the past few weeks, losing three out of their last four games away from the Matadome, the No. 3 Matadors got a big conference win on Wednesday night in Santa Barbara, sweeping the Gauchos 3-0.

Redshirt freshman John Baker led the way for the Matadors (14-6, 11-6 MPSF) with 13 kills while seniors Kevin McKniff and Mike Gaudino finished with eight apiece.

“It’s huge to come into an opponent’s gym and beat them in three. It’s quite an accomplishment,” Baker said. “Like I talked about before, in this league, it’s like the Big East in basketball. Teams beat up on each other. So to come in here (and win) is huge.”

The match began with the teams going back and forth after 19 points, but the Matadors were able to get a little separation thanks to Baker’s serving which fueled a 4-0 spurt, giving CSUN an early 13-10 advantage.

The Gauchos (10-10, 7-7) responded with a 4-1 run to tie the score at 14 and took the lead on the next point. The match was once again a tight battle, with both teams unable to get away from each other for the next 21 points. The match was all squared at 25 before McKniff took over the match with two service aces and a kill and the Matadors finished off the Gauchos with a 5-1 run, ending the frame.

“I thought both team played well. At the very end, we just had a couple of serves go our way,” CSUN head coach Jeff Campbell said. “McKniff was definitely the difference in that first set.”

The Gauchos, unfazed by the end of the first set, came out firing in the second, getting out to an 18-14 advantage. The Matadors slowly began their second-game comeback and pulled within two at 24-22 after a kill by Gaudino. Two points later, on a service ace from sophomore setter Matt Stork, the Matadors tied the frame at 24.

After splitting the next seven points, the Matadors finally managed to take the lead at 28-27 after a UC Santa Barbara attack error.  The Matadors ended the frame five points later after a kill from Baker and a block from McKniff.

“The second set, we kind of let up a little bit,” Stork said. “We didn’t hit as well and we just made some weird errors, but we were able to finish out the set.”

Determined to end the match in three games, the Matadors got out to an early four-point lead (12-8) after back-to-back service aces from McKniff. The Gauchos responded with a 4-1 rally to tie the score at 15, but that was the last time UCSB was in the game as the Matadors responded with a 3-0 run which ended on a kill from McKniff. The Matadors stretched the advantage to four once again at 21-17 and outscored the Gauchos 9-8 thereafter to take the third frame, and the game.

“The three-game sweep doesn’t mean much to us as a coaching staff,” Campbell said. “What it means is that we get a ‘W,’ and that is what is more important at this point in the season.”

The Matadors now get ready for their second non-conference opponent of the season as they host Loyola-Chicago on Saturday. The Ramblers will come into the night already having faced two Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponents: Long Beach State, whom they lost to, 3-1, on Tuesday, and UCLA, which they play on Friday.

“It’s going to be fun,” Baker said of facing the team that recruited him. “The setter, Mike Hutz, I looked up to him all through high school, so it will be nice to teach him a little something.”