Coaches’ polls are the opinions of experienced officials ranking their competition’s overall talent. According to the 2011 poll from the Big West Conference, the Cal State Northridge women’s volleyball team, which finished seventh in the league last season (13-19, 5-11 Big West), will be a big underdog this time around and finish eighth. That’s what the “experts” say.
“A poll is a poll. We still have to play the matches and also, if you look at last year, Irvine was picked No. 2 and they wound up eighth,” head coach Jeff Stork said. “We are committed to doing what we can do better than we did last year and that’s all I have to say about polls.”
And while the Matadors have potential for an exciting season with a young core returning, they didn’t start off on the right foot. The team struggled during the weekend in its first tournament of the season, the Utah Classic, and went 1-2, their win coming in the last match against Weber State by a score of 3-2. During their losses, the Matadors failed to win a single set and were swept by Northwestern and Utah.
Mahina Haina led CSUN with 10 kills in the Northwestern loss on Friday. Freshman Casey Hinger had six kills while Haina and Allen contributed with five kills each against Utah early Saturday. Haina then went on to record a career-high 28 kills against Weber State later the same day.
Not a perfect start, but the Matadors are a team led by young players gaining experience one day at a time.
Natalie Allen and Haina, who combined for nearly 600 kills together last season, are returning sophomores who will have the responsibility of leading the Matadors against a tough Big West conference.
Haina was third in kills on the team last year with 196 and will be a “player to watch,” according to Stork.
“Mahina is a very positive person who plays with a lot of energy,” he said. “Very explosive and dynamic player. She’s gotten better as double (practice) days have gone through.”
“I think I am going to do the same thing I did last year,” Haina said. “I am just going to compete. I don’t have any other expectations than to just do my best.”
Stork also praised freshman Casey Hinger, who had nine kills of her own vs. Weber State.
“She has the characteristics of a natural leader who is willing to voice her opinion on the team,” Stork said. “She is dynamic, quick, can hit a variety of sets. For her high school team, she passed, hit middle, blocked middle and hit out of the back row, so she is able to do a lot of different things offensively.”
Allen was named to the Big West All-Freshman team last year and is expected to have a big role for the Matadors this season following the departure of senior, 2010 Big-West Honorable Mention Lynda Morales.
“When you have good vision and good hand control, that’s a very good combination,“ Stork said. “(Allen) adds a third dimension, which is, she can hit the ball hard. What you will see a lot from her is that she can overpower an opponent, but she can also play with a lot of finesse.”
Allen attributed the weight room and the conditioning coach for helping her get in shape.
“We will be better than last year, I think we have a better base this year,” she said.
Stork, entering his tenth year at CSUN is leading the Matadors into their 37th season. He also has some experienced players, two of them being senior Samantha Orlandini and junior Monica McFarland. Stork described Orlandini, who led the team with 1,009 assists in 2010, as being a “good leader” and mentioned the “commitment” and “focus” of McFarland.
The Matadors have another tournament coming up this weekend, the Sacramento State Invitational, and will face Marist on Friday and Fresno State and Sacramento State on Saturday.
The home opener is on Sept. 6 against USC, which reached the Final Four last year. Other notable matches are Sept.12 at UCLA, who reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, Sept. 17 against BYU at home and Oct. 1 against defending Big-West champion Cal State Fullerton.
“I think the Big West is always tough, but we have depth in every position,” Stork said. “So there are a lot of options for us. We’re eager to get started.”