The tenth game of the season will arguably be the CSUN women’s volleyball team’s biggest one. It will also mark the first time in 2008 that Northridge plays on its home court.
And as if there weren’t enough subplots already, the rival is likely the most physical and most elite team the ladies will face all season.
The Matadors will host the fifth-ranked team in the nation, the UCLA Bruins, tonight at 7 p.m. at the Matadome. The Tuesday date does not give the players a chance to freshen up their legs after a difficult tournament in Arizona over the weekend and certainly doesn’t give head coach Jeff Stork much preparation time, either.
‘We’re not going to do a lot of volleyball,’ said Stork on Monday before a light team practice. ‘I want to play them on fresh legs rather than tired legs, so we’ll watch some film and key in on our tendencies.’
Not many expect the Matadors to pull off the upset. The Bruins (6-1) come from what Stork believes to be the best conference in the nation, the Pac-10 and they are a more physical than CSUN. They’re the better team. The Matadors, however, feel they are capable of being competitive, no matter who the opponent is.
‘We want to play relaxed and come ready to play regardless of who’s on the other side,’ Stork said. ‘We want to present ourselves as a competitor, battle for every point, and play in the moment.’
‘(The team’s) going to be excited, because it’s the home opener,’ assistant coach Kiran Mistry said. ‘It’s always fun to play against a ranked team.’
The Matadors (5-4) should be used to playing against tough competition. This season, they have already played Washington State, Saint Mary’s, Cincinnati and Arizona State, four teams that Stork has been quick to compliment. The team went 0-4 in those matches, getting swept in three of them, but the experience against other upper-echelon teams could go a long way against the Bruins.
‘Those matches get you ready,’ Mistry said.
The Bruins are undefeated on the road this season and have won five in a row, having swept their last four opponents. They defeated Big West Conference member Cal State Fullerton in three sets by scores of 25-10, 25-20 and 25-19. Prior to that, they beat Seattle University in the Nevada Tournament 25-19, 25-10 and 25-20. The Matadors, though, also swept Seattle when they faced them in the Bronco Invitational.
Just the way the Matadors have Pac-10 opponents scheduled on their non-conference schedule, the Bruins have also faced a couple of Big West teams: the aforementioned Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside who they swept on Sept. 3.
They have won 15 consecutive sets after dropping the first set to Hawai’i back in late August. Needless to say, they are clicking on all cylinders, so the Matadors will have no choice but to be ready.
‘I would say our confidence is pretty high,’ freshman setter Samantha Orlandini said. ‘But I think we all still need to keep focused on what we need to accomplish on and off the court to make ourselves better and keep the confidence up.’
Stork said he’ll use the same lineup he used in the ASU Sheraton Hotel Invitational, mainly because they are starting to find a rhythm with one another.
In that case, the Matadors, who will try to end the Bruins’ consecutive-set streak ‘- if not the winning streak ‘- will go with junior outside hitter Angela Hupp, who picked up All-Tournament honors for the third time this season, sophomore outside hitter Brittany Williams, senior middle blocker Val Kepler, redshirt sophomore Lynda Morales, freshman setter Samantha Orlandini, defensive specialists Amy Hultner and Kelley Hanson, and outside hitters Siara Grayson and Jenn Probert.
Statistically in 2008, the Matadors have more kills than the Bruins, 391 to 293, although CSUN has played more games. Northridge has committed more errors than its opponents, while the Bruins have had the upper hand in that category. Both teams have more assists than the opposition, with the Matadors averaging 11.4 per set and the Bruins averaging 9.0 per set. The Matadors also have 46 aces to the Bruins’ 31. Both teams have totaled more kills than their opponents.
On defense, both teams are outnumbered in the digs’ category. Northridge has 70 blocks while the Bruins have 59.5.
There is another thing the two teams have in common. Neither has played a home game thus far this season, but the Matadors will change that as they welcome the Bruins for what should be an interesting match-up.
‘Having a home game against a cross-town opponent helps us,’ Stork said. ‘We’re hoping our student body will support and the noise factor works to our favor.’