The third-ranked Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team is stumbling into the MPSF tournament after being swept by the top-ranked UC Irvine Anteaters April 12, then were taken out two nights later in four games by the No. 7-ranked UCLA Bruins at the Matadome by scores of 30-26, 17-30, 30-28 and 30-20.
“We didn’t play the way we were playing last week,” junior libero Sebastian Pedraza, referring to the week before when the Matadors swept both the Pepperdine Waves and the USC Trojans.
Junior opposite Dan Rhodes and senior outside hitter Cary Hanson both had a team-high 15 kills, senior middle blocker Brian Waite had 14 kills and senior middle blocker Matt Bellante and sophomore outside hitter Issac Kneubuhl had 10 kills apiece. Sophomore setter Travis Bluemling had 59 assists and Pedraza had 12 digs.
“We played so well for almost two months straight and we just didn’t play well at all,” head coach Jeff Campbell said.
In game one, UCLA jumped out to an early 7-3 lead and maintained it early in the match. The Bruins increased their lead to 15-10 on a CSUN attack error, which forced a Matador timeout. CSUN responded with three in a row to cut the lead to 15-13, forcing a Bruin timeout.
UCLA got the advantage back on another CSUN attack error and soon got its lead back to five. The Bruins led 21-17 until CSUN scored four in a row, cutting the UCLA lead to 21-20 on a Hanson block.
CSUN stayed within a point of catching UCLA until kills by Matt Wade and Steve Klosterman gave the Bruins a 26-23 advantage, which was what UCLA needed as they eventually won game one 30-26.
The second game saw the Matadors come out firing early and often. CSUN led 3-2 until consecutive kills by Kneubuhl gave CSUN a 5-2 lead. Rhodes then took over, as he scored four consecutive ace serves, which were sandwiched between a UCLA timeout to give CSUN a 9-2 lead.
The Bruins could not recover, as the Matadors built their advantage to as many as seven. Then, leading 18-12, Waite pinned Damien Scott for a kill, Hanson snuck a tipped ball past the UCLA defense to the middle-left side of the Bruins’ court and Hanson then teamed with Bellante to deny Paul George on an attack, which gave CSUN a 21-12 lead and forced a Bruin timeout. CSUN continued to dominate the rest of the way and won 30-17.
The third game was close throughout. UCLA led by as many as three, though CSUN didn’t let them get any further. Then, with the Bruins leading 14-12, Waite caught the UCLA defense off guard with a tipped ball, then Pedraza dug out a UCLA attack that somehow found its way into UCLA open territory for a Matador point and Kneubuhl aced on the ensuing serve to give CSUN a 15-14 lead.
A Matador attack error tied the game at 15 until CSUN ran off three more points to take an 18-15 lead. CSUN then increased its lead to 21-17 and led 22-18 until the Bruins had their own three-point spurt to cut the lead to 22-21.
Both teams traded the next four points until a Rhodes kill and a Bruin attack error built the Matador advantage back to 26-23.
UCLA came out of a timeout fired up, as they scored three in a row to tie the game. Then, following a CSUN timeout, Klosterman and Nick Scheftic denied Bellante on an attack to give UCLA the lead.
CSUN tied the game one more time on a Bruin net violation, but Klosterman smashed two kills to give UCLA the game-point advantage. Hanson kept the Matadors alive, but Klosterman ended any thoughts of a third game sudden death, as his cross-court kill gave UCLA a 30-28 win.
The Bruins quickly carried the momentum over into game four, bolting out to a 4-1 lead. CSUN then scored three of the next four points to get within 5-4, but that was the closest the Matadors got, as UCLA responded with a 7-3 run, including a three-point scoring run which gave them a 12-7 lead.
The Bruins continued to roll, increasing their lead to 18-11 and leading by as many as 10 on their way to the 30-20 win.
“We just didn’t play to our potential,” Rhodes said. “Our passing was off, our hitting was off and we didn’t play a fundamentally good game.”
Klosterman was a force for the Bruins, as he smashed a match-high 30 kills while Scott had 18 kills and Scheftic had 11. Wade and Dennis Gonzalez had 31 assists apiece, Tony Ker had 14 digs and Paul George had 12 digs.
CSUN finished the regular season with a record of 18-9, 13-8 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, good enough for sixth place in the conference. UCLA improved to 19-12, 11-10 in MPSF play and closed out its season on an eight-game winning streak.
Prior to the game, the Matadors took some timeout to honor its three seniors Bellante, Hanson and Waite, all three of whom were playing their final game at the Matadome. The Matadors will now look ahead to an MPSF quarterfinal matchup with the Pepperdine Waves at Firestone Fieldhouse April 22 at 7 p.m.
Ivan Yeo can be reached at email@example.com.