CSUN in review: So far, so good

Victor Corona

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Jacek Ratajczak (17) goes for a tip over Nejc Zemijak (15) of Hawai'i in a five set win against the Warriors at the Matadome Friday March 5. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith Staff Photographer.

As the Matadors get ready to travel to Muncie, Ind. this weekend to take on Ball State, CSUN (15-6, 11-6 MPSF) remains in the hunt for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season title, one game behind co-leaders Pepperdine and Stanford.

The Waves and Cardinal sit atop the conference with a 10-4 MPSF record having played two less games than the Matadors.

According to the preseason MPSF Coaches Poll, the Matadors were picked to finish eighth in the conference and the last team into the MPSF Tournament.

After 21 games the Matadors’ season has seen its ups and downs thanks to playing in the toughest league in collegiate volleyball.

No. 3 CSUN, who is in the midst of a three-week conference break, began the season winning the preseason Santa Barbara Invitational. The Matadors defeated the host UC Santa Barbara, 3-1, in the opening match of the invitational, as senior outside hitter Theo Edwards put aside any questions people had of him replacing All-American Eric Vance with a career high 20 kills in his first game as a starter. The Matadors beat Cal Baptist and BYU the next day to claim the Santa Barbara Invitational for the second consecutive season.

Senior middle blocker Kevin McKniff was named the tournament MVP after pounding 45 kills, 13 blocks, and four aces in 12 sets.

CSUN continued its good play into the regular season winning the first three matches against UC San Diego, Long Beach State and UC Irvine.

Tied for the best start in school history at 6-0, the Matadors moved to the No. 1 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Poll and stayed atop the rankings for three weeks.

After sitting on top of the polls  with an 11-2 record, CSUN suffered home loses to then-No. 10 ranked teams UCLA and Pepperdine.

CSUN went on the toughest stretch of the season with four consecutive road games against UC Irvine, UCLA, USC and Pepperdine.

The Matadors struggled on the road losing three of the four matches, after back-to-back losses at UC Irvine and UCLA. The Matadors were knocked out of the top spot and fell to No. 5.

The road did not get any easier the week after with matches at USC and Pepperdine. CSUN was able to manage a split.

In the last few weeks the team has picked up their play winning three of four matches, with fellow middle blockers Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak winning MPSF Player of the Week the last two weeks.

Ratajczak won his award due to his 30-kill performance on March 5th against Hawai’i. The week after McKniff was awarded his third MPSF Player of the Week for the season.  He recorded a career-high five serving aces and eight kills against UC Santa Barbara and then had 12 kills on 13 swings against Loyola-Chicago, which was the second best hitting clip in the league this season.

The Matadors have six matches to go after their trip to Ball State this weekend; five of the six are against conference foes. CSUN’s possible run to a conference and national title will come with critical matches versus Stanford on April 2 and back-to-back matches at BYU April 16 and 17. At stake is not only a conference title but an opportunity for high seed in the conference tournament, which the winner gets an automatic bid to the national championships May 6-8 at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto.