Matadors hope to improve and make NCAA tournament

Andrew Clark

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Setter Sydney Gedryn (front) and middle blocker Casey Hinger celebrate a point last season. The Matadors hope to have even more to cheer about this season. File photo/ Daily Sundial

If coaches’ polls are points of pride for teams, then consider the Matadors eager to shake up the Big West Conference.

After last season, CSUN (16-13, 9-7 Big West) is projected to finish third in the preseason coaches’ poll, behind league newcomer Hawai’i and Long Beach State.

Despite the polls, the Matadors are looking forward to the challenge of conference play.  CSUN has not won a Big West title in the eleven years it has been in the conference.

“I’m looking forward to upsets,” sophomore middle blocker Casey Hinger said.

Hinger is the returning freshman player of the year and was one of three Matadors selected to the all-Big West first team, along with opposite hitter Natalie Allen and setter Sydney Gedryn.  Hinger was second on the team with 257 kills.

Head coach Jeff Stork, entering his 11th season with the Matadors and soon-to-be Hall of Famer, gently critiqued his starting middle blocker.

“She can work on being a leader on this team,” Stork said.  “She’s a perfectionist in all six skill areas and she can be an unbelievable player.”

The team returns all of its starters from last year’s squad and has two seniors, including libero Cindy Ortiz.  The stalwart defensive specialist had a team and career high 452 digs last season for CSUN.  She explained her role on the team as, “keeping the ball alive and communicating with the front row.”

“I want to go out with a bang individually and as a team,” Ortiz said.  “I want to show everybody I have grown since my freshman year.”

One of the biggest challenges the Matadors will face is the arrival of powerhouse Hawai’i to the Big West Conference.  The Rainbow Wahine moved from the Western Athletic Conference where they were 16-time conference champions and are currently ranked eighth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason nationwide poll.  But Stork stresses a consistent level of preparation, regardless of the opponent.

“We account for Hawai’i the same way as everybody else,” Stork said.  “Hawai’i is a good team and makes the Big West a stronger conference.”

Also lurking in the Big West are last year’s champions, Long Beach State, and UC Santa Barbara.  The 49ers and Gauchos finished in first and second place, respectively, ahead of the Matadors last season.

Coordinating the Matador offense is junior Sydney Gedryn, who was fifth in the conference with 967 assists last season.

“It’s like being the quarterback of the team,” Gedryn said.  “I know I have great passers and hitters.”

Hinger made no secret as to what the team’s ultimate goal is.

“A big goal is to make the NCAA tournament and to make a name for ourselves,” she said.

Stork stressed the players’ skill improvement more than the outcome of any particular match.

“Outcome is something we think second,” he said.  “Our hope is we’ll be getting better.”

The Matadors’ home opener is Sept. 3 against the Idaho Vandals who were 10-4 in the Western Athletic Conference last season.  Other notable games include the conference opener against Hawaii on Sept. 19, Long Beach State on Sept. 27, and UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 3.