Nowhere to go but up, right?

Emin Avakian

It’s hard not to think back to the 2002 season.

That team started the season winning four of its first six games, but faltered and finished the season below .500. It also happened to be the first year Jeff Stork took reigns as head coach of the Northridge women’s volleyball team.

This year’s team was also 4-2 after six games, but has now lost five of its last six, including four in a row. Granted, the losses came to tough teams such as Arizona State, fourth-ranked UCLA and No. 21 Pepperdine – this last one coming Saturday, a day after another defeat at the hands of Texas State at the Asics Pepperdine Classic. Regardless, three of the four losses have been sweeps. That’s never a good sign.

Stork was hoping that the team could regain some confidence and win two games at Firestone Fieldhouse in Pepperdine to go into Big West Conference play with a 7-5 record. As it turned out, the Matadors’ (5-7) win drought continued in the three-team tournament. Northridge lost to the Bobcats in five sets and to the undefeated Waves in three.

The five-set Friday match with Texas State was Northridge’s third that went down to the final set in 2008. They lost one to Washington State in the season opener, and defeated San Jose State in the Sacramento State Invitational in another one.

With Northridge trailing 7-6 in the fifth set, Texas State used a mini 4-1 run to open up an 11-7 cushion highlighted by a pair of Bobcat aces. Three straight Matador points closed the gap to 11-10 but a trio of Texas State kills and a Grayson hitting error gave the Bobcats the come-from-behind 3-2 win.

Fatigue might have been a factor in the next day’s match against Pepperdine as the Northridge offense was flat and their defense couldn’t control the Waves’ attack.

‘We didn’t earn as many kills as I would have liked,’ Stork said. ‘But it’s a team effort. We need to pass well, setters need to set in the right locations and our hitters need to finish with some kills.’

‘Net play is the No. 1 factor,’ he added.

The Waves dominated the Matadors in all facets of the game, scoring more kills than their rival (38-32), committing fewer errors (9-30), thus leading to a higher hitting percentage (.296 to .017).

Pepperdine also sided out at high percentages: 75 percent in the first and third sets, and 62 percent in the second. Northridge did not side out better than 50 percent in any of the sets.

The Waves jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the first set and never looked back. Pepperdine maintained a comfortable lead for most of the match. The Matadors could only get as close to five on a pair of occasions, the last at 14-9, before the Waves outscored them 8-4 over the next 12 points to take a 22-13 lead.

Northridge tied the score for the first time in the match during the early stages of the second set, but a 6-1 Pepperdine run gave them the 7-2 lead. The Matadors closed the gap to 8-5, but Pepperdine put together another run, this time 7-1, to extend the lead to 15-6.

The Matadors got within five points late in the set, but the Waves scored the last four points to close it.

‘Our team felt comfortable after winning the second set,’ Pepperdine head coach Nina Matthies said. ‘It’s not easy rallying back from a two-set deficit but we knew we still had to close it out.’

Northridge took its first and only lead of the game, a brief 1-0 advantage, at the beginning of the third set. The set started with the teams trading the first six points an even making it look as if they could have a close one all the way through, but an 8-0 run from Pepperdine gave the Waves an 11-3 lead and erased any hopes of a Northridge comeback.

The Matadors did get within six at 21-15, but then went scoreless again for the final four points of the match, giving Pepperdine their ninth sweep of the season.

‘We’re playing with a lot of heart,’ Stork said. ‘We just need to work on our passing, setting and hitting.’

The Matadors will have time to practice and improve on the fundamentals. They will look to end their losing streak at the perfect time, as Northridge begins conference-play hosting UC Santa Barbara Sept. 26 at the Matadome.