After a crazy Saturday night in which UCLA and Pepperdine were upset, the Matadors escaped from Smith Fieldhouse with a five set win over BYU that earned CSUN the third seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament.
“Everyone was fired up because we did not want to lose to BYU and have to go to Hawaii (in the first round),” sophomore setter Matt Stork said. “Because we don’t do well there (Hawai’i) and it’s obviously great to be able play at home in the first round.”
With the third seed in place the Matadors journey towards a possible national championship begins with a first round playoff match against No. 6 USC this Saturday night at the Matadome. The Matadors defeated the Trojans twice during the regular season and in the process stretch their winning streak against USC to 16 in a row.
“We come into the match knowing that we have never lost to these guys (USC) and we are not going to do it now,” senior outside hitter Theo Edwards said. “Our plan was to leave as seniors never losing to this team and here it is we have to play them again and I think it’s a great thing and we are excited about it. Knowing that we can beat this team because we have done it before.’”
The Trojans were chosen by the MPSF coaches to not only win the MPSF regular season title but were the consensus preaseason No. 1 team.
With a bullside on them USC was able to maintain the top ranking the first four weeks until being replaced by the Matadors. The first match (Feb. 3) between the two happened to coincide with the Matadors taking over the top stop and USC falling to No. 2 in the country. The match featured the largest crowd of the year at the Matadome (1,475) as junior opposite hitter Tanner Nua pounded out a team-high 17 kills to help the Matadors to a five set win over the Trojans.
“We have 16 (wins) on them but all the matches have been close,” senior outside hitter Mike Gaudino said. “It’s been cool and we know they are going to come with fire on Saturday for playoffs because it’s win or go home.”
Three weeks later (Feb.24) CSUN dominated USC at the Galen Center thanks to an unexpected source. After being told upon arriving to the Galen Center that he would be making his first career start redshirt freshman John Baker led the Matadors with 15 kills in the 3-1 win over the Trojans.
“During the regular season they thought I was this new kid and they didn’t know much about me but now they have tape and they know where I hit.” Baker said. “It’s a little different in the playoffs if someone actually kills you have to adjust.”
The Trojans finished the regular season with wins over Long Beach State and UC Irvine finishing 13-9 in conference garnering them the six seed in the tournament. The Trojans featured two of the best hitters in the nation in junior opposite hitter Murphy Troy and sophomore outside hitter Tony Ciarelli.
“Murphy Troy and Tony Ciarelli are definitely their two best players and so if we can try to focus in on them and serve a little tough,” senior Mike Gaudino said. “I feel like they are a weaker passing team and if we continue our good serving we could really get them off balanced.”