Big night from middle blockers Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak helped No. 3 CSUN sweep past No. 12 Loyola-Chicago (30-22, 30-27, 30-22) Saturday night at the Matadome.
McKniff and Ratajczak combined on 25 kills on 30 swings, while redshirt freshman John Baker, who was recruited by the Ramblers coming out of high school, added 13 kills to tie Ratajczak for the match high in kills. Sophomore setter Matt Stork quietly had an impressive night with 40 assists and a game high five serving aces.
“Our passing was really on tonight,” McKniff said. “That allowed our team to fire on all cylinders and when we do that we are pretty hard to stop.”
The Ramblers looked like a team that belonged in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference early on by going toe-to-toe with the Matadors. Loyola-Chicago held the lead for most of the first half of frame until a combine block from Ratajczak and Stork tie the match at 12. CSUN took the first lead of the match three points later thanks to a kill from Baker.
The Ramblers did not go away staying within distance of the Matadors at 20-19 late in the frame. CSUN put Loyola-Chicago and the set away with an 11-3 run, highlighted by senor outside hitter Mike Gaudino’s two blocks and kill that helped close out the frame for the Matadors 30-22.
“We knew that their opposite was good so I was trying to focus in on stopping him,” Guadino said on what he did to spark the late run for the Matadors. “We got a triple block and we got some momentum and they missed a couple of serves and all of the sudden we look up at the scoreboard and it was match point at 29-21 so that was cool to see.”
Feeding off their late run at the end of the first set the Matadors jumped out to an early 12-8 advantage after a combined block from Ratajczak and Baker. The Ramblers, who were undefeated prior to their west coast trip that included matches against Long Beach State (Wednesday) and UCLA (Friday), responded by tying the score at 14. The Matadors answered back with a 4-1 run that gave CSUN a little breathing room at 18-15 but the Ramblers had one last run in them getting within 25-23. CSUN proved to be too much down the stretch outscoring the Ramblers 5-3 to take in the second set 30-26.
“We had a couple of runs in the set and we really block well tonight,” said Baker. “That just took them out of their regular tempo, so they had to try different shots they weren’t comfortable with and once we did that we were able to take control of the game and finish it off.”
The Matadors stormed out to a 21-12 advantage in the third set looking for their second consecutive sweep. CSUN stretch the lead up to 11 at 28-17 after a kill by Baker and were able to put the Ramblers away for good seven points later winning the third set 30-22.
“It’s big time to get these sweeps especially since we are off for a couple weeks,” Guadino said.
The Matadors get this week off and don’t play again until the team travels to Muncie, Indiana for back-to-back matches against Ball State March 26 and 27.
“It’s going to be great, a couple of the guys are beat up and sore just because the season is so long,” said Baker. “It will be nice to get this whole week off rest up and at the same time keep the focus. So will still be around volleyball but not as much. Then next week come back in for a couple days of practice and head out to Ball State and take care of business there.”