After playing an abysmal match in a straight-set loss against the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara on Jan. 21, the No. 13 Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team looked to rebound in back-to-back weekend matches at the Matadome.
It didn’t happen that way.
The Matadors lost in straight sets against the defending NCAA champion Stanford Cardinal on Friday and Pacific Tigers on Saturday. The team has lost nine straight sets since taking one from UCLA on Jan. 19.
The losses drop CSUN to 0-3 at home and the team is now riding a four-game losing streak, the biggest since dropping nine straight in the 2001 season.
In spite of the losses, coach Jeff Campbell sees improvement in his young team, but said there are still areas that need work.
“Today (against Stanford) we played better; we played better in a lot of areas. Our passing settled down, our serving settled down a little bit; we were a little bit more effective than last week,” Campbell said. “Stanford played very well and, you know, it’s tough to beat a team with the type of players that they have, even when we’re at our best.”
Campbell said the team improved overall, but it was not enough to beat a team like the Cardinal, who is ranked second in the conference.
The match against Stanford (5-2, 4-2 MPSF) was difficult to call in the first two sets. Both teams were trading kills and errors and not one was able to attain a substantial lead.
The match saw 23 ties and five lead changes, with the bulk coming in that game changing second set.
Campbell said the team held on when playing in critical moments.
“I feel good that we improved, for sure, we’re moving in the right direction and we got a lot of young guys on the team and what’s most important is that we gain experience against good players in tight situations and in game two, that was a tight situation,” Campbell said.
He said it was good to see the team not give up, noting that missed opportunities were the reason the Matadors lost the set.
“We battled, so we never gave up,” Campbell said. “We played hard and battled with them and we had shots at winning that game we just weren’t able to terminate the ball and have it go our way, but we were right there.”
Matador middle blockers Greg Faulkner and Drew Staker led the team in kills, both with nine, with each hitting above .300 for the match. Staker hit .533, bested only by Stanford outside hitter Eric Mochalski, who hit .700.
Faulkner, who leads the team in blocks with 21, said the team had better opportunities in this match than the last match (against UC Santa Barbara) because they were facing more of an attacking team. The Gauchos had a tougher defense.
Matador outside hitter John Baker said the team is still not where it needs to be, but was quick to point out inexperience is still a factor the players have to overcome.
“We have a long way to go. Even at the end of game three, we missed three to four serves at the end when we shouldn’t have missed those, especially how close the game was. We basically gave them free points and they ended up winning that game,” said Baker, who is hitting .229 for the season. “Same with blocking, you know, we had opportunities up there, it’s just we’re not there yet and that’s with an inexperienced team, it’s going to happen. It’s coming along, it’s just going to take a little more time, but it’s getting there, it’s getting there.”
Outside hitter Spencer McLachlin led Stanford with 15 kills, hitting .520. Outside hitter Brad Lawson, last year’s MPSF Player of the year recorded 14 kills for the Cardinal.
The Matadors lost the second of the back-to-back matches to Pacific (4-4, 1-3 MPSF) 25-16, 31-29, 25-20, giving the Tigers their first conference victory and first in Northridge since 2003.
No CSUN hitter had more than nine kills, with true freshmen Faulkner and Brandon Lebrock scoring that amount.
The team was unable to build on the defense that made the Stanford game close the night before, as the Tigers were able to hit .352, including a whopping .600 mark in the first set. The Matadors hit .253 for the match.
CSUN will face Ohio State in a nonconference matchup Friday, Feb. 4 in University Park, Pa., as part of the Penn State Tournament. The team will play four of the next five matches on the road.