The Matador men’s volleyball team is in the process of rebuilding this season after reaching the national stage in the four-team NCAA Tournament.
Posting one of the best seasons in school history, the team finished third in the nation after losing to Penn State in straight sets, falling two victories short of winning it all.
The loss, coupled with the departure of five seniors, including All-American middle blockers Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak and outside hitters Mike Gaudino and Theo Edwards, meant the Matadors had some work to do in the offseason.
The holes created by the departures are filled now, but experience is not something that grows on trees. Seven games are already in the books for the 2011 season and the team is starting three freshmen, something sophomore outside hitter John Baker said is a weakness, but will eventually bring positives.
“We have some true freshmen playing, they’ve got great arms, they’re great volleyball players, but the one thing they lack is that experience,” Baker said. “We are going to be a great team, it’s just going to take some time.”
The Matadors (2-5, 1-3 MPSF) are tallying more losses than wins this season and a lot of it can be attributed to players not having games under their belt.
“Well, this year is a different team, we have different expectations. We have very inexperienced players; we have talented players, but very inexperienced players,” said Campbell, who entered his 14th season as head coach. We’re a little inconsistent right now, we’ve played a few matches and we’ve been up and down, but that’s characteristics of an inexperienced team. We got to get better at being consistent no matter who we’re playing.”
CSUN started play with a four-set exhibition victory against Laval, a Canadian university, but was followed by a straight-set loss to conference rival UC Santa Barbara in the season opener. The team featured an almost completely different starting lineup with only two returning starters, which included setter Matt Stork.
The team recovered when it captured the first victory of the season against UC San Diego. The Matadors rallied for three straight sets after losing the first 29-31.
Northridge’s loss against USC marked the first time Southern California has beaten the Matadors since 2004, a streak that reached 17 games. Some were quick to downplay the streak, citing experience as the reason for the loss.
“I mean, a streak is pretty cool, but we don’t really think about that stuff,” said Stork, who leads the team in assists with 204. “We played hard, they just have more experience.”
The Matadors came back, grinding out a five-set victory against Pepperdine for their first conference win, a match where they came back from a 1-2 set hole. A four-set defeat at third-ranked UCLA followed.
A late first-set rally by UCSB in the Matadors’ home-opener Friday was too much to handle, carrying the momentum into the match-defining second set that resulted in a straight set 25-22, 25-9, 25-20 defeat at the Matadome.
CSUN wasn’t able to come back after being up by as much as three points in that first set. The Gauchos made a six-point turnaround and routed the Matadors in the ensuing second set.
Campbell didn’t cite Stork’s absence, who was out with an injury, as the cause for the loss. He said all aspects contributed to bad play.
“The setting wasn’t a big problem in this match, it was passing, it was blocking, it was serving and there were some other issues,” Campbell said. “I’d like to blame it on the setting but I don’t really think it was, I think we had other issues.”
Even though several areas lacked, Campbell said having a new team with new faces played a major role.
“I think they’re just trying to figure out a way to win and having the freshmen that we have right now, I mean they’re working hard, but they’re still a long way to being where they need to be to compete at a high level consistently,” Campbell said.