Looking in from the outside

Victor Corona

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Long trips have not been kind to the No. 2 Matadors as they split a pair of matches last weekend in the Bay area.

Earlier this season, CSUN (20-4, 13-4 MPSF) lost back-to-back games in Hawaii to account for half of their total losses in 2009. On Friday, after a long bus drive to Maples Pavilion to play No. 7 Stanford (16-8, 9-6), the Matadors were upset 3-1.

‘First off, It’s a long drive,’ Head coach Jeff Campbell had warned earlier in the week. ‘Anytime you have to travel to another gym, especially at that length, it’s going to be tough.’

The Matadors had four players with double-digit kills. Leading the way once again was senior All-American Eric Vance, who pounded out 27 kills, while juniors Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak chipped in with 19 and 14 respectively. Sophomore Tanner Nua had 12.

A record-setting night from Cardinal junior Evan Romero was overshadowed by the upset of the Matadors, who had beat Stanford 3-1 on Feb. 20 at the Matadome. Romero became Stanford’s all-time kill leader with 1,155. He surpassed former Cardinal Curt Toppel

Things started off the wrong way for the Matadors as they fell behind 5-0 to start the first set thanks to three kills from Cardinal freshman Brad Lawson. CSUN got within 12-9 before Stanford went on a 15-10 run to put the set out of reach for the Matadors at 27-19.

The second set was a back-and-forth affair. Two Cardinal errors and a kill by Vance gave the Matadors a 17-14 lead. The advantage didn’t last long as Stanford came back to tie the score at 20 thanks to a kill by Lawson. The game went into extra points. With the score tied at 32, a service error by freshman Matt Stork ‘- who had eight in the game ‘- and a kill by sophomore Spencer MacLachlin game Stanford the set.

Faced with the possibility of being swept for the first time this season, the Matadors were once again in a dogfight in the third set. The teams traded leads in the frame until Stanford went on a 4-0 run to take a 19-15 advantage. The Cardinal stretched its lead to five at 25-20 and all seemed to indicate CSUN wouldn’t even win a set. However, the Matadors mounted an incredible comeback fueled by the trio of Vance, McKniff and Ratajczak, who combined on eight kills to help the Matadors tie the score at 30. A service error by Stanford and a kill by Vance a point later gave Northridge a 32-30 set win and a bit of hope.

The fourth and final set belonged to the Cardinal from beginning to end as Stanford raced out to a 16-8 lead and didn’t look back in winning the frame 30-22 to take the game. The loss was the third on the road this season and had the Matadors on a two-game losing streak in conference.

The Matadors snapped the skid the next night in Stockton, making quick work of Pacific (3-21, 0-15 MPSF) and sweeping it 3-0. The Tigers are the only MPSF team not ranked among AVCA Division I-II members.

For second consecutive night, Vance led the way for the Matadors with 15 kills. Nua added 11 while Stork set the attack with 48 assists.

The Tigers held an early 10-9 lead in the first set before the Matadors pulled’ away from them with a 10-1 run. CSUN won the set 30-19.

The Tigers were not about to roll over and jumped out to a 5-3 advantage in the second set. However, the Matadors again responded with a big run (16-7) to go up 19-12 and cruised to a 2-0 set lead.

The final set of the night was the most competitive. With the game tied at 17, the Tigers took a three-point lead after kills from freshman Sean Daley and junior Jason Borchin. The Matadors came back to score five of the next seven points and evened the score at 22. Pacific took its final lead of the set at 26-25 on another kill from Daley before four straight CSUN points made it 29-26, which put the Matadors at match point. A service error by CSUN made it 29-27, but the Tigers had a service error of their own on the next serve and fell 30-27.

The loss to Stanford dropped the Matadors two games in the loss column behind Pepperdine and UC Irvine. CSUN will need outside help to win the regular-season championship and a chance at hosting the playoffs. There are only five matches left.

Up next for the Matadors will be their final home games of the season ‘- should they not host the playoffs. CSUN’s rivals will not be walkovers. No. 3 Pepperdine visits Wednesday while No. 4 USC comes to the Matadome on Friday.