For a set or so, the Matadors seem like the team that dominated the USC Trojans for 17 straight games prior to the 2011 season.
The Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team held its own against the No. 1 team in the nation, keeping games close and not doing the things that doomed it earlier in the season.
It all fell short as the Trojans defeated the Matadors in straight sets 25-21, 27-25, 25-19, Wednesday night at the Matadome.
The second game proved to be the difference maker, one that saw five tie scores and went back and forth with no team able to get a leg up on the other.
At the end of the second game, the teams were similar in several categories, including hitting percentage (USC’s .286 to CSUN’s .245), sideouts (USC’s 33 to CSUN’s 32) and team blocks (USC’s six to CSUN’s four).
Assistant coach Theo Edwards, who was filling in for ill head coach Jeff Campbell, acknowledged the team’s improved game plan, which was constructed specifically to play USC, but cited errors as the culprit for the loss.
“We’ve done a lot of things with our blocking, with our middles (blockers). We’ve done a lot of things with our hitting in preparation for these guys (USC),” Edwards said. “They like to set their middles a lot and we tried to gear our practices around what USC was doing. I think we did a lot of nice things, but we made a lot of mistake on defense.”
Northridge, winners of three of the last four matches, was a different team from the one that showed up at the Galen Center on Jan. 12. The Matadors lost in straight games and did not even come close to a being a worthy opponent.
CSUN jumped on the Trojans (9-1, 9-1 MPSF) early in the first game, recording a number of leads, but USC came back to win the game.
The Matadors (4-11, 3-7 MPSF) kept the Trojans at a .167 hitting percentage, a big plunge from their conference-leading percentage of .390.
CSUN hitter Tanner Nua cited small errors as the reason for the close game defeats, but said the top-ranked team was not superior to his team.
“I think the games were definitely in our hands, (but) we sort of erred at crucial times that let them take the games,” Nua said. “As far as them outplaying us, I would say they didn’t, for sure. We didn’t beat ourselves because we were playing well, but we just had small mistakes at crucial times.”
Trojan hitter Murphy Troy, who leads USC in kills averaging 4.64 per game, had a game-high 16 kills and hit .323. Two other Trojans hit for more than 10 kills.
Setter Matt Stork said he felt like his teammates were playing timidly and afraid, despite the level of improved play the Matadors were displaying.
“It was weird because it was like we were playing really well and the scores were tight, but it didn’t really feel like we were playing that well,” said Stork, who dished out 29 assists and recorded one kill. “We could’ve played so much better, but to me it just didn’t seem like the effort was there.”
The match against USC is the first of a stretch where the Matadors will play seven of their next eight games at the Matadome.
Northridge will host the eight-ranked Pepperdine Waves (5-6, 3-6 MPSF) on Friday. It will be the second match of the season between the teams, last playing on Jan. 15.
Nua is confident that if CSUN displays the same level as they did against USC, then the team has a great chance of winning more consistently.
“If we play the same way we did tonight, I think we’ll sweep Pepperdine in three to be quite honest. I think we played really well and that’s (USC) the number one team in the nation, they should be the best, they’ve lost one match all season,” Nua said.