Most student athletes coming in as freshmen from high school spend their first year trying to acclimate to their team, hoping to contribute in some way. Any way. Setter Matt Stork is no ordinary freshman, however, as he has proved this season in leading the No. 2 CSUN men’s volleyball team to the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament Thursday against No. 3 Pepperdine.
‘It’s tough for freshmen to come in and play at a high level,’ CSUN Head coach Jeff Campbell said. ‘He has made it an easy transition from (2008 senior) Travis (Bluemling), who was our setter last year, to him now.’
Stork, the son of former U.S. volleyball Olympian and current women’s volleyball coach at CSUN Jeff Stork, stepped into Bluemling’s role in 2009. Last season, Bluemling led the team in assists with 1,384 as the Matadors went on to win a then-school record 23 victories and were on the brink of the MPSF Championship game before losing to BYU 3-0 in the semifinals.
‘Honestly, coming into the season, he was make-or-break for us,’ junior middle blocker Kevin McKniff said. ‘Coming in as a freshman, we didn’t know what he was going to do, but he has lived up to the hype.’
As a freshman on the No. 2 team in the country, Stork has played in a team-high 108 out of a possible 110 sets while leading the nation in assists (1,525) and assists per set (14.12).
‘Coming in as a freshman, it’s been really good to get some experience with real good players,’ Stork said. ‘I didn’t really have any goals. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I’m real happy to be playing for a team in the playoffs in my first year.’
In a four-set win at the Matadome against Stanford on Feb. 20, Stork had a season-high 81 assists, five aces (four of which came on consecutive services), and eight digs. His great performance garnered him MPSF co-Player of the Week honors along with Paul Carroll, who plays for the Waves ‘- the Matadors’ opponent Thursday at Irvine.
‘It surprised me how he picked up the position,’ senior All-American Eric Vance said. ‘We lost a great setter in Travis and I had confidence in (Jeff) Baxter, too, but the way (Stork) stepped up and played says a lot. He has allowed us to become as good as we are. Without a solid player at that position, we’d be nothing this year.’
Stork followed his great performance against the Cardinal with another 81-assist match in the Matadors’ upset of then-No. 1 Pepperdine the following week. The win propelled the Matadors to the top spot in the national polls for only the second time in the school’s history.
‘He is the best setter I have ever seen,’ said junior opposite hitter Theo Edwards, who has been with the Matadors since 2006. ‘Put aside that he is a freshman, the kid is naturally gifted. His confidence has really helped this team step up. If he was acting like a freshman and he didn’t have that confidence he has, then we wouldn’t be where we are today.’
Last week, in his first collegiate playoff game against BYU, Stork led the team to a .354 hitting clip and posted 57 assists. The win was the 24th for the Matadors this season, which surpassed the 1993 and 2008 teams that posted 23 wins.
‘I was kind of nervous before the game,’ Stork said. ‘But it went away when I stepped on the court because I knew that if I was nervous I wouldn’t play well, so I threw that away and played my best.’
For Stork, who has the Matadors on the brink of their first MPSF championship game and a possible shot at Nationals, it will be the biggest game of his young career. Vance, a graduating senior and the Matadors’ undisputed leader, believes this will only be the beginning. Vance sees Stork taking the men’s volleyball program to big places in the years to come.
‘He is going to take this program really far,’ Vance said. ‘Because he’s one of the best setters in the nation right now. So if he just keeps working on his game and does some fine tuning and continues getting better each year, he has potential to be a three-time (or a) four-time All-American.’