The No. 2 Matadors men’s volleyball team advanced to the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament after a hard-fought 3-1 win over sixth-seeded BYU Saturday at the Matadome.
‘It was a pretty close match that could have gone either way,’ CSUN coach Jeff Campbell said. ‘I thought some of our players had some nice swings and some good serves that really affected the other team and allowed us to come out with the win tonight.’
Leading the Matador charge ‘- as he has done all season long ‘- was senior All-American Eric Vance, who had 21 kills, four digs and three blocks. Three Matador juniors chipped in with double-digit kills: Jacek Ratajczak and Mike Guadino had 13 apiece while Kevin McKniff added 11.
CSUN came out sluggish in the first set and trailed before finally being able to take a 9-8 advantage thanks to an attack error from the Cougars. A timeout from BYU coach Shawn Patchell a point later sparked a 4-0 run for the Cougars, who took a two-point lead and forced Campbell to get off his seat and call a timeout of his own.
The timeout seemed to work as the Matadors would go on two score consecutive points on kills by Ratajczak and Vance to tie the score at 12. The Matadors found themselves in a see-saw battle for the next ten points before breaking through with three straight points after the frame was tied at 17. The Matadors did not relinquish their advantage and were able to stretch it to as many as five (27-22). A kill by Nua seven points later finished off the Cougars and gave the Matadors a 30-26 set win.
Feeding off the late first-set run, the Matadors got out to an early four-point advantage (14-10) on Nua’s fourth kill of the night. The Cougars answered with a 9-6 run, which got them within 20-19 after a kill from Russell Lavaja. That was the closest the Cougars got as the Matadors took command of the frame with a 6-0 run highlighted by a McKniff service ace that snuck in just inside the line. The set ended on a service error from BYU outside hitter Joe Kauliakamoa, giving the Matadors a 2-0 edge.
It sure looked like CSUN would get its third sweep of the year over BYU. The Cougars didn’t look like they had much more to give. The Matadors, however, gave them enough to live in the third set.
‘When we’re doing really well and crushing down a team, we kind of let our guard down,’ freshman Matt Stork said.
After two solid sets, the Matadors struggled in the early part of the third before roaring back to make a game of it. Down 16-8, Campbell, who was looking for some kind of spark for the team, inserted junior Theo Edwards in the lineup. The Matadors’ comeback was in motion soon after. CSUN outscored BYU 17-9 and tied the frame at 25-25 on a combined block from Edwards and Ratajczak.
The Matador momentum didn’t last long. Following another tie, this one at 27-27, the Cougars used a set-finishing 3-0 run to win the set and keep their season alive. ‘Coach said that I needed to go in and be the spark plug,’ Edwards said. ‘(He said) ‘I need you to bring the energy and bring the team back up and fire them up ‘hellip; and let’s win this game.”
Fueled by their short-fallen third set comeback, the Matadors came out pounding away and blocking their way to a 19-13 advantage in the fourth set. During the early run, the Matadors had eight kills and four blocks. Leading the charge was Vance, who was recently named to the MPSF First Team, with three kills and two blocks. The Cougars began clawing their way back and eventually tied the score at 24 on a block from freshmen Futi Tavana.
Unfazed by the tie, Stork set up a great ball that Vance obliterated for a kill that had the Matadors back in front. An attack error from Cougar Kent Tuttle on the next point was all the Matadors needed as they didn’t look back and won the set 30-27. The 3-1 win set up a rubber match against second-seeded Pepperdine Thursday in the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament, which is being hosted by UC Irvine. The winner will advance to the championship game and face either the top-seeded Anteaters or USC, the fifth seed.
‘We split the series this year against (Pepperdine),’ Ratajczak said. ‘We got to go out there and take it from them because I feel like it’s our time to do that.’