Let?s start over

Emin Avakian

Conference season has arrived for the Northridge women’s volleyball team.

In the four tournaments Northridge competed in, head coach Jeff Stork and his staff tried to find the right lineup, worked on the fundamentals and played to win every match against tough, non-conference opponents.

In conference play, the same philosophy will apply, only against familiar foes.

The Matadors (5-7) will open their conference schedule when they host UC Santa Barbara Friday and Cal Poly on Saturday, thus beginning a string of 16 Big West Conference matches.

‘We are all pretty excited to start our season,’ junior outside hitter Angela Hupp said. ‘We are confident that we can beat both of these teams this weekend, especially at home.’

Northridge has had success in Big West openers under Stork, with a 4-2 record, and have won their last four. Last season, Northridge defeated UC Santa Barbara on the road in what was both teams’ first Big West game. The five-set win was the Matadors’ first in Santa Barbara since the 1992 season. In seven Big West seasons, Northridge is 4-3 (.571) in conference openers and 2-2 (.500) when they’re at home.

The Gauchos are no strangers to Northridge, and vice versa. Both teams played in the Pepperdine Invitational, so they had an opportunity to scout the adversary for two games.

‘There shouldn’t be any surprises,’ Stork said. ‘We are as prepared as we can be.’

Santa Barbara (4-7) beat Texas State in the Pepperdine Invitational to snap a five-game losing streak. The Bobcats had defeated Northridge in five sets the day before.

The Gauchos dominated the first set against the Bobcats, taking the first lead and never looking back on their way to a 25-16 set win. Sets two and three were more of a challenge as the two squads faced 21 ties and traded the lead on five occasions.

All four victories for Santa Barbara have come in the three-set fashion.

The Big West is one of the tougher conferences around. Two-time defending-Big West champion Cal Poly was a unanimous pick to win its third straight regular season crown as the Mustangs earned all nine first-place votes, a total of 81 points. In non-conference play, however, Cal Poly has gone 5-6 thus far.

Cal State Northridge earned 27 points and was picked to finish seventh by the conference’s head coaches in the 2008 Big West Women’s Volleyball Preseason Poll.

The Matadors get Cal Poly at home Saturday for their second conference game of the season. The 25th-ranked Mustangs have dropped four straight matches, including losses to No. 11 Minnesota, No. 4 California and No. 6 Stanford.

Unlike Santa Barbara, Cal Poly is an unfamiliar opponent. Stork said the team will watch some tape in order to get ready for them.

But Stork and his players aren’t worried about whether or not they will be prepared.

‘The team is focused and they are training well,’ Stork said. ‘For every match, we need to play great volleyball and beat every opponent.’

‘I think we are all anxious and excited for our first conference match on Friday,’ freshman setter Samantha Orlandini added. ‘We have been training really hard and we are ready to win our conference.’

What Stork is worried about are injuries. Senior outside hitter Jenn Probert is nursing an injury that may keep her out of at least the first two conference matches. Stork said it’s a game-time decision.

Long Beach State won a league-best 10 of the 12 matches on its non-conference schedule. At 8-5, UC Davis is the only other Big West team with a record above .500. UC Irvine, UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton and Pacific are the four other teams in the conference that Northridge will see twice.

Northridge will play five of its first eight league matches at home. Conversely, they will be on the road for three of their final four games.

‘The home crowd is always important,’ said Stork. ‘We played pretty well against a very good team in UCLA in our home-opener. We were in the match and I think some of that has to do with the home court and the great crowd that day. We’re hoping again that the students will support our program.’

Both games are set for a 7:00 p.m. start.