The No. 3 Matadors capped off a perfect 4-0 spring break record with a hard fought sweep of No. 12 Penn State Saturday night (30-27, 30-24, 30-25) at the Matadome, as the five graduating seniors were honored before the match with a ceremony.
“It’s a good way to go out and it was fun,” senior outside hitter Mike Gaudino said about getting a win on senior night. “Especially against a good team like Penn State who always has a good program, good players, good coaches and everything… its a good way to go out, definitely.”
Although team captain Ali’i Keohohou was out with an ankle injury he sustained during the last match against UC Santa Barbara (April 7), the rest of the seniors stepped up to fill the void left by their emotional leader with a well-balanced attack. Outside hitter Theo Edwards led the way with 12 kills, while the middle blocker tandem of Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak combined on 18 kills and 13 blocks. Gaudino finished the night with only seven kills but made up for it on the defensive end with 13 digs and five blocks.
“(Ratajczak) played really well and had a good match both statistically and energy wise, (McKniff) played great and hit for a good percentage, (Gaudino) had good leadership and his passing was excellent and (Edwards) had a great night,” said head coach Jeff Campbell. “(Keohohou) obviously sprained his ankle and wasn’t able to play tonight and so we are real proud of our seniors and hopefully we can keep this momentum going into BYU.”
The Matadors (20-7, 14-6 MPSF) jumped out to an early 6-2 advantage against the Nittany Lions (20-7) in the first set. The lead quickly evaporated as Penn State tied the match with a 4-0 run and took the lead three points later at 8-7.
CSUN fell behind by as many as three points late in the set at 22-19, a 4-1 run by the Matadors tied it at 23 and a serving ace by Ratajczak gave the team the lead for the first time since early in the match. An attack error on the next point by Penn State made it 25-23. The Nittany Lions got within 27-26 but back-to-back kills from McKniff made it game point and Ratajczak ended the frame with a big kill that two Penn State defenders were not able to handle.
The second set turned out to be more like the first one with the Matadors jumping out to an early lead (8-3) before the Nittany Lions rallied to tie the frame. The only difference was Penn State never took the lead in the frame after tying the score three times. With the Matadors holding on to a 17-16 lead, CSUN finally pulled away from the Nittany Lions thanks to a 3-0 run that ended with a serving ace from McKniff.
The Matadors went on to stretch the lead to five late in the set and eventually won the set by six at 30-24. Junior opposite hitter Tanner Nua had three kills in the frame after replacing starter John Baker midway through the set.
“(Nua) did a great job … we were struggling and Baker was struggling at the opposite position,” Campbell said. “It was nice to have Tanner come in, hit so well and be a catalyst for us.”
CSUN continued the trend in the third set once again getting out to an early lead, and like the second frame never relinquished the advantage. The Nittany Lions were unable to put a bite into the Matador lead as CSUN cruised to a 30-25 set win.
The win gave the Matadors their third straight 20 win season and the seniors improved to 85-36, a win percentage of more than .700, this comes on the heels of an impressive 4-0 spring break home stand that included wins over No. 1 Stanford and a five-set win over UC San Barabara.
At 14-6 in conference play the Matadors sit tied for second with BYU and one game behind Stanford with two matches to play. The Matadors finish the regular season with back-to-back matches this Friday and Saturday night at BYU.
“Honestly that could make or break us,” McKniff said of the two matches against BYU to end the regular season. “That (winning both matches) could give us the at large bid if we have a couple of teams win or lose our way and that could throw us in the final four automatically, so it’s huge.”