How fitting that it took five thrilling sets for the Matadors to win their final match of the 2008 season.?
And in pulling off arguably the biggest upset of the Big West Conference season, the Northridge women’s volleyball team did what it set out to do: win one more for seniors Kelley Hanson, Kayla Wright, Val Kepler, Amy Hultner, and Jenn Probert.?
‘Really happy for the seniors,’ Head Coach Jeff Stork said after his team’s 19-25, 25-22, 25-23, 18-25 and 15-10 victory over No. 23 Long Beach State in front of 473 attendees at The Matadome Friday night. ‘We played really well and beat a good team.’?
‘We did it for the seniors,’ said sophomore Brittany Williams, who led the team with 19 kills, including the match winner.?
As much as the Matadors (9-21, 3-13 Big West) wanted to win the match for the seasoned team veterans, the 49ers needed to win one of their final two matches of the season to secure the conference title that they had already clinched a share of.?
So after the Northridge seniors were honored before the match and it was time to get down to business, there was an electric playoff atmosphere in the building.?
Long Beach State (24-5, 13-3) trailed early in the opening set but came back to tie it several times. The 49ers finally took their first lead at 11-10 and that lead quickly grew to 17-11 after two Brittney Herzog kills. Despite the momentum, Cal State Northridge cut the lead to two twice at 17-15 and 19-17. Three straight points helped ‘The Beach’ get back up to a five-point lead that eventually gave them the set.?
Long Beach Head Coach Brian Gimmillaro received a yellow card when the teams were tied at nine for arguing a previous call. That seemed to spark the 49ers as they took the 11-10 lead shortly after and did not relinquish it.?
After hitting .414 in the first set to take the win, the 49ers suffered a letdown in the second set, struggling to regain their early rhythm. The teams worked through 11 ties in the early going, but two Matador blocks helped the Matadors take a 17-14 lead. The 49ers never climbed back into things, falling 25-22 while hitting only .135, hitting into 5.5 Matador blocks.?
Northridge built on its set two momentum and trailed just twice in the third set. With the score tied 15-15, the Matadors engineered a 4-1 run to open up a 19-16 lead following a Williams kill. Northridge also led by three at 21-18, 23-20 and 24-21. Long Beach staved off two set points, but a Siara Grayson kill finally gave the Matadors a 2-1 set lead.?
Gimmillaro switched things up in set four, bringing in Ya Chen Wang for Cat Highmark, and the team responded with their fastest start of the match. 49ers went to Wang for three kills and two from Herzog for a 15-8 lead. The 49ers continued to set Herzog for the remainder of the set and finished things off 25-18 to force set five.?
‘They changed their lineup in the fourth,’ said Hanson, who led the team in what she has done best in her four years, digs, with 16. ‘We weren’t used to it.’?
Hanson served Northridge to a 3-1 early lead in the final set. The Matadors were relentless on offense, scoring on 11 kills with just two errors. Long Beach trailed the entire way, as the Matadors weren’t going to be denied. Not on senior night. ?
‘Our goal was to have fun and we did just that,’ Kepler said. ‘It’s fun to win.’?
‘We could have done it the whole year,’ Williams said. ‘It took all this time, but to top it off against a ranked team feels good.’?
Williams, Grayson and Angela Hupp accounted for 51 of Cal State Northridge’s 67 kills. Wright led all players with 53 assists.?
Herzog led the way for the 49ers with 16 kills on .538 hitting and Quincy Verdin chipped in 14 kills for Long Beach. Defensively, Iris Murray led the way with 17 digs while Lauren Minkel added 12.?
The five-setter was the eight one this season for the Matadors. They went 3-5. The win over Long Beach was the first win in four matches against a ranked team. ?
With that, the 2008 season is over, a trying one. And in a season of streaks, the Matadors ended it on a two-match winning one.
‘Because our season was so rough, this win feels that much better,’ Kepler said.?