After a hard fought MPSF Tournament quarterfinal win over No. 6 seed USC last Saturday at the Matadome, the third-seeded Matadors are in Palo Alto, Calif. tonight for a 5 p.m. semifinal match against second seed BYU.
Both teams are familiar with each other having just split a pair of matches the final weekend of the regular season. After finishing the season with identical records (22-8 14-7 MPSF) the Cougars were able to earn the second seed in the playoffs thanks to winning two more sets in the two matches.
“We just played them so we know what to expect from them,” senior middle blocker Kevin McKniff said. “Like what they are going to do, what their shots are, so they are fresh in our minds and we will be ready for them.”
The Matadors and Cougars are no strangers to each other in the MPSF Tournament having eliminated each other the past two seasons. BYU bounced CSUN in the 2008 MPSF semifinals with a 3-0 win at the Walter Pyramid; the following year Northridge was able to avenge the loss with a 3-1 MPSF quarterfinal victory at the Matadome.
“Now that we are playing them for the fifth time (in one calendar year), we have seen what they are going to do and I’m excited now because I finally get to play against them,” senior outside hitter Theo Edwards said, who was relegated to watching the last two matches against BYU due to injury.
Since meeting last year in the MPSF quarterfinals the teams have met three more times, the first coming in the championship match of the preseason Santa Barbara Tournament and the last two at the end of the season.
“To tell you the truth it doesn’t mean anything going into this match except for maybe bragging rights,” Mckniff said of defeating the Cougars in three out the last four matches.
The Cougars defeated UCLA last weekend to advance and face the Matadors. Leading the way for BYU in the win over the Bruins was sophomore Robb Stowell with 18 kills, while All-Conference selection Andrew Stewart chipped in with 16 kills.
“They are a great team, fundamentally sound and a good blocking team,” redshirt freshman John Baker said. “All the way around they are a phenomenal team… I feel like we have a phenomenal team as well. So we will need to exploit a gap or seam in their blocking… stay fundamentally sound and we will be able to pull out the win.”
BYU is the best blocking team in the conference at 3.78 blocks per set and the best defensive team, holding opponents to a .250 hitting clip. The middle block tandem of Futi Tavana and Russell Lavaja were the top blockers in the MPSF with 1.78 and 1.55 blocks per game respectively.
“Their middles are very good, very aggressive and they are a pretty good passing team,” Edwards said. “For us, we have to serve well and if we don’t then they will be able to get into their system and set those middles and those middles can cause some problems for us.”
The Matadors will counter with their middles, Jacek Ratajczak and McKniff who’s great play this season was recognized last week by being named to the MPSF All-Conference First Team. It is the first time in the school’s history that two teammates were named first team selections.
With No. 1 Stanford defeating eight-seeded UC Irvine on Saturday, and being the highest seeded team in the playoffs the Cardinal are the host for tonight’s semifinal matches and Saturday’s championship game.
Up first tonight at Maples Pavilion is the match-up between CSUN and BYU, followed by Stanford-Hawaii, which starts a half an hour after the first semifinal ends.