The ASU Sheraton Invitational is probably not going to make or break the young 2008 season. After all, it’s only September. However, considering the tough competition they’re facing, it could be an early indication of what the volleyball Matadors are made of.
After good showings in the Bronco and Sacramento State Invitationals, the women’s team is off to its best start since the 2002 season, Jeff Stork’s first as the CSUN head coach.
One thing to notice is that the 2002 squad faltered after the good start and finished the season with a below-.500 record. To prevent that kind of fading this time around, the Matadors will look to continue their solid play in tournament action. They leave for Arizona this weekend and hope to come back to Northridge with three more wins.
‘It’s going to be a tough weekend,’ said Stork, whose team sits in fourth place in the Big West Conference standings. ‘I think this will be the toughest of the four-team tournaments this season, but I think we’re in a good position because we’ve narrowed down our starting lineup over the last month.’
Stork has been looking for the right combination of players throughout non-conference play and, in Arizona, he will look to get a definite starting lineup to carry a good rhythm into league play.
‘We’ve been more competitive in more positions,’ he said. ‘Every position is competitive, which is something we haven’t always had here.’
Barring a surprise move, Stork will likely go with middle blockers Val Kepler and Lynda Morales, setter Samantha Orlandini, outside hitters Siara Grayson, Brittany Williams and defensive setters Angela Hupp and Kelley Hanson. Morales, Hupp, and Hanson have started all six games thus far. Kepler, Orlandini, Grayson and Williams have also seen a great deal of time on the court.
No matter what the lineup ends up like, the players are focused and confident for the weekend tournament.
‘The team feels good about the way we started off these first two tournaments,’ said Williams, who led the team in kills in games against Sacramento State and Saint Mary’s last weekend. ‘We are just trying to stay together and play together for every match.’
The Matadors (4-2) will play three teams with winning records: Cincinnati (4-2), Montana (4-3) and the host, Arizona State (5-2).
‘They are teams that are traditionally in the playoffs,’ said Stork, talking about the Bearcats, Grizzlies, and Sun Devils respectively. ‘They’re going to be important games for us.’
The Matadors and Bearcats will meet for just the second time in their history on Friday morning. In their lone 2005 meeting, Cincinnati defeated CSUN 3-1. Northridge hopes to even the all-time score and they believe they have a good chance in part due to Cincinnati’s recent slide. The Bearcats have dropped their last two games.
Later that same day, CSUN will face an old rival and an intriguing match-up in the Grizzlies, who once shared a conference with the Matadors. It will be their first meeting since October of 2000, Northridge’s last year in the Big Sky Conference. The Grizzlies won that match, but the Matadors have won eight out of 12 historically. They also have a 1-0 record at neutral sites.
CSUN gets to play the host Saturday. Arizona State has lost to Northridge only once in its history. The Matadors are 1-3 all-time on the road against them, a record they want to improve come Saturday.’ It wouldn’t just give them a better shot at winning the Invitational, but it’d also be a key win against a quality, non-conference opponent. ‘There’s no chance the team overlooks our next three games,’ Stork finished. ‘We stress staying in the moment and respecting every opponent.