The fifth-ranked Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team came back from a two-game deficit to stun the No. 7 UCLA Bruins by scores of 26-30, 25-30, 30-21, 30-26 and 15-10 Feb.10 in Westwood.
Freshman Eric Vance led the Matadors with 24 kills while junior Dan Rhodes made up for an off night in CSUN’s previous game at UC Irvine. After earning only three kills in the Matadors’ five game defeat against the Anteaters, Rhodes earned 17 kills and 13 digs against UCLA. Also contributing for the Matadors were sophomore Travis Bluemberg (63 assists), senior Cary Hanson (13 digs, three aces), junior Sebastian Pedraza (13 digs) and senior Brian Waite (12 kills).
“We knew we could come back,” Rhodes said. “There wasn’t a doubt in our minds.”
In the first game, CSUN took an early 3-1 lead until UCLA came back to tie at three. Both teams traded the next five points until UCLA ran off three in a row to take an 8-6 lead. CSUN was forced to play catch-up throughout the game, though the Matadors didn’t let the lead grow above three. UCLA took a 20-15 lead, forcing a CSUN timeout. The Matadors cut the deficit to 23-19, forcing a UCLA timeout and continued to fight, cutting the deficit to 25-22 on a Matt Bellante kill and forced another UCLA timeout. After the timeout, CSUN and UCLA traded points, which played right into UCLA’s hands, as the Bruins went on to win the first game 30-26.
The second game began just like the first game, with both teams keeping each other within sight. CSUN trailed 7-6 until a kill by Rhodes, a UCLA attack error and a Bellante block of a Nick Scheftic kill gave CSUN a 9-7 lead, forcing a Bruin timeout. CSUN built its lead to 11-7 before UCLA went on a 4-2 run to tie the game at 13. The Matadors retook the lead on a Rhodes kill and maintained their lead until a Stomath kill and an attack error on Waite gave UCLA a 17-16 lead. Rhodes tied the game at 17 and an ace by Waite gave CSUN an 18-17 lead. UCLA, however, reeled off three in a row to take a 20-18 lead. CSUN continued to stay close, but couldn’t get UCLA to crack, as the Bruins further built its lead to 27-22 and ended up winning the second game 30-25.
“The first two (games), we weren’t doing the little things that we can do well,” Vance said. “Then when we started doing that and we started clicking as a team and flowing, we played better and we just showed (UCLA) what we can do.”
In game three, both teams traded the first eight points until the Matadors scored seven in a row to take an 11-4 lead. UCLA soon climbed its way back into the contest, cutting the deficit to 17-14, forcing a CSUN timeout. Hanson, however, stemmed the tide for UCLA, smashing a kill, earning an ace on the ensuing serve. CSUN and UCLA once again traded points, only this time, it worked to the Matadors’ advantage. With kills by Waite and Vance, CSUN took a 26-20 lead. Not even a UCLA timeout could prevent the inevitable, as CSUN eventually won game three 30-21.
“We’re going out with an attitude that we have nothing to lose,” Hanson said. “When we have fun, that’s when we play better.”
The two teams once again battled each other to a standstill to begin the fourth game. With the game tied at nine, UCLA scored four of the next five points to take a 13-10 lead, forcing a CSUN timeout. UCLA continued to roll, increasing its lead to 17-12 before CSUN went on a 5-1 to force a UCLA timeout. UCLA built its advantage to 22-19 before the Matadors stormed back. A UCLA serve went wide, Rhodes smashed a kill off Damien Scott, then teamed with Bellante on a block to tie the game at 22 and block by Hanson and Bellante, gave CSUN the lead forcing a UCLA timeout. UCLA’s David Russell found an open spot in the middle to tie the game, but Rhodes smashed a kill to the right side of UCLA’s court and denied Russell on a kill attempt to give the Matadors a 25-23 lead. UCLA took advantage of a service error and an attack error to tie the game one more time, but Waite gave CSUN the lead back and Klosterman’s kill attempt went long, giving back CSUN’s two-point advantage. Russell tried to stem the tide with a kill, but another Waite kill, a wide kill attempt by Stomath and a Hanson ace gave CSUN a 30-27 win, forcing the fifth and desisive game.
The Bruins took a 5-3 lead in the fifth match and maintained it at 7-5 before CSUN scored the next three points, taking an 8-7 lead on a Vance kill. The Matadors led 10-9 when Bellante smashed two kills, forcing a UCLA timeout and giving CSUN a 12-9 lead. Rhodes blocked a George kill attempt to force another UCLA timeout. George then hit the out-of-bounds pole on another kill attempt and Rhodes slammed the door shut on CSUN’s comeback victory.
“We played a little steadier in the last three games,” said head coach Jeff Campbell. “I felt like we played a little bit better and we started to affect them a little bit.”
The Matadors continue on their four-game road trip at USC on Jan. 15 before traveling to Malibu for a showdown with defending national champion Pepperdine on Feb. 17.
Ivan Yeo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org