Matadors start season away from home

Emin Avakian

Don’t tell women’s volleyball head coach Jeffrey Stork practice isn’t important.

Stork is preparing his team for 2008 with good training, hard work and an attitude that says a successful year starts with quality practice sessions in both the offseason and regular season.

‘The team is training very well,’ said Stork, whose team had a record of 13-18 overall and 7-9 in the Big West Conference last year. ‘We’re going to prepare as well as anybody.’

Despite the disappointing 2007 season, Stork’s squad ended it on a high note. They beat Cal State Fullerton, Fairfield, and Idaho to close the year on a three-game winning streak.

The Matadors, however, play a tough 2008 non-conference schedule, kicking off the season against Washington State on Friday in the Bronco Invitational, which will take place in Boise, Idaho. ‘

Stork is looking at the non-conference schedule as opportunities to better his team for when the games become more important.

‘The tournaments will prepare us for the teams in the Big West Conference,’ Stork said. ‘We’ll be seeing good teams in (the) Boise (Invitational), so it’ll be a good start for us.’

Northridge plays three other Invitationals this season before starting conference play. Some of the rivals they’ll find in them include Arizona State., Boise State, Seattle Univeristy, Pepperdine and UCLA.

Stork said that he would look to experiment with different lineups and see what works and what doesn’t before the Big West season comes along.

The Big West is one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Cal State Northridge was picked to finish seventh by the conference’s head coaches in the 2008 preseason poll, earning only 27 points.

Northridge was picked to finish fifth in last season’s preseason poll and the prediction came true as the Matadors ended up tied for fifth in the conference. However, the team isn’t giving much thought about what the polls say. They don’t expect the prediction to become a reality this time around.

‘The polls are being a little unfair,’ said outside hitter Siara Grayson. ‘Our team is the same as last year for the most part while other teams in the conference have had (a makeover).’

Senior Val Kepler is taking a different approach and sees the polls as motivation to prove coaches wrong.

‘The polls just make me want to play harder and do better than (the predictions),’ said Kepler, who was third on the team in kills last season with 269. ‘Because we are better than that.’

Two-time defending Big West champion Cal Poly was a unanimous pick to win its third straight regular season crown and got all nine first-place votes, giving them a total of 81 points.

The Matadors get the Mustangs at home for their second conference game of the season.

Historically, Northridge has played a tough schedule at a near 3.0 Rating Percentage Index (RPI), a ranking system for NCAA teams. This season’s RPI will be a little below last season’s, but the Matadors are not predicting any results based on their opponents.

‘What we need to worry about is how well we play, and how hard we train,’ Stork said.

The Matadors have a deep and experienced roster, with six returning starters and five seniors on the team. Last season, Northridge didn’t have any seniors, which is one of the main reasons Stork praises the experience and strong leadership that the upper classmen are bringing in 2008.

2007 All-Big West honorees Angela Hupp, Kepler and Brittany Williams highlight the Matador roster. Starting setter Kayla Wright, libero Amy Hultner, and defensive specialist Kelley Hanson are also back for another run.

The Matadors also have a solid quartet of recruits in setter Sam Orlandini, defensive specialist/outside hitter Monica McFarland, middle blocker Tela Burnett and middle blocker Puneet Pataria.

‘The four players we have coming in are outstanding volleyball student-athletes,’ said Stork. ‘Each year we recruit better and better players. I am happy to say this year is no exception.’

The team just finished its offseason schedule of hard training as they get set to begin 2008 in Boise on Friday. They like their chances despite a group of coaches saying otherwise.