UC Irvine is No. 3 in the Big West Conference standings, and probably on its way to the league’s tournament. Northridge is last in the conference, and in all likelihood will not see a postseason.
But when the two teams faced off during Saturday night, standings became irrelevant as the Matadors played with a purpose and put up a fight against the Anteaters, but were ultimately defeated 3-1 by scores of 25-20, 18-25, 18-25 and 21-25 at the Matadome.
‘We played very well the majority of the time,’ Matador Head Coach Jeff Stork said. ‘We just couldn’t get it done in a couple of rotations that created the separations.’
There were little separations in the first set, as the teams were tied on eight different occasions with neither team holding a lead of more than five.
Northridge (6-19, 1-11 Big West) held its first lead of the set at 19-18, part of a five-point streak that would eventually stretch the lead to 22-18, the largest by either team at the time. An Amy Hultner service error was not taken advantage of by the Anteaters, who gave it right back on one of their four service errors of the set. Northridge closed it out soon after.
‘We were a little more intense in the first set [than in the later sets],’ sophomore outside hitter Brittany Williams said.
The Anteaters controlled the second set, taking the lead from Northridge at 5-4 and never relinquishing it. Still, with the Matadors at the Anteaters’ tail late in the match, Irvine used a six-point run to take the score from 19-16 to a set-point advantage of 24-17. A service error from Tela Burnett gave the Anteaters the set and put them back into the match.
UCI (12-11, 7-3) went from siding out at 45 percent in the first set to 63 percent in the second, while CSUN went the other way, siding out at 57 percent in the first set to 45 in the second. Northridge also hit seven fewer kills in the second set than in the first (9 to 16), and had a lower hitting percentage.
The all-important third set saw three lead changes and eight ties . The final lead change came when Northridge had a 14-13 lead, and Irvine went on a five-point run to take an 18-14 advantage. After trading the next two points, the Anteaters went on another run, this time reeling off four straight to take a commanding 22-16 edge that would eventually lead to a set win.
Irvine wrapped up the match with a run midway through the fourth set. With the Anteaters up 12-11, Kari Pestolesi had three kills to highlight an 8-0 run which all but wrapped up the match for UCI. An ace from Hultner temporarily cut the lead to 23-20 but Angela Hupp was stuffed on match point sending the Matadors to their eighth loss in nine home matches.
‘Their defensive side is not as good as their offense,’ Stork said. ‘Conversely, our offense is not as good as our defense, which is our bread and butter.’
Siara Grayson’s 14 kills led Northridge as the sophomore hit .122 and added a pair of blocks. Hupp added 13 kills hitting .211 and scooped up 14 digs for her second double-double in as many nights. Freshman setter Samantha Orlandini also posted a double-double with 38 assists and 10 digs while senior Kelley Hanson dug a match-high 25 balls.
The loss to Irvine came one day after a four-set defeat at the hands of UC Riverside. Despite 27 kills from Hupp, the Highlanders (8-17, 3-7) went on to win by scores of 25-20, 23-25, 25-22 and 30-28.
Northridge will next play at Cal State Bakersfield in a non-conference re-match of their Sept. 30 meeting, which the Roadrunners won in five sets. Then, it’s three road matches against conference opponents before finishing out the season at the Matadome Nov. 21.
‘We are going to train the same way, scout the same way, hope to stay healthy and try to win five straight matches,’ said Stork.