Men’s Volleyball: Lenore’s freshman season turning heads

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Men’s Volleyball: Lenore’s freshman season turning heads

Brionna Lewis

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Redshirt freshman opposite hitter Damani Lenore has excelled in his first collegiate season, leading the team with 72 kills in five matches and propelling CSUN to wins over the No. 4 USC Trojans and the Pacific Tigers. Photo Credit: Trevor Stamp / Senior Photographer

 

Early in the 2014 season the Matadors (3-4, 3-3 MPSF) have exceeded expectations in the nation’s toughest conference, nearly upsetting the No. 1 Pepperdine Waves (5-1, 5-1 MPSF) in a 3-2 loss and sweeping the No. 4 USC Trojans (5-3, 4-3) in an unexpected victory at the Matadome. A big reason for the Matadors’ competitiveness has been redshirt freshman opposite hitter Damani Lenore.

Leading the team with 72 kills in just five matches, Lenore has been an offensive machine. His 4.88 points per set average, fourth best in the ultra-competitive Mountain Pacific Sports Conference, have kept the Matadors within reach in every set he’s played in. His 4.24 kills per set average would be tops among freshman and fifth in the nation had Lenore been eligible, having played in less than 66.7 percent of the Matadors’ matches this season.

“We saw in practice the potential he had,” head coach Jeff Campbell said about Lenore’s redshirt season. “He was athletic, he had strong work ethic, a great attitude and effort. So once he got out to the season in his first match he really took advantage of that.”

In his first full match on Jan. 22 against the No. 1 team, Lenore excelled as he smashed a match-high 28 kills and kept Pepperdine on its toes, as he helped push the Waves to a 2-1 deficit in the match. Although the Matadors could not pull the upset as they dropped two straight sets to fall 3-2, the volleyball nation took note of the talented rookie.

“I guess I was just doing more from the beginning so (the setter) kept setting me more,” Lenore said of his season-best performance. “I don’t really often get to hit. It was actually really fun at this game.”

Following the close defeat, the Matadors bounced back in a big way, sweeping the No. 4 USC Trojans at the Matadome on Jan. 24. Lenore led the Matadors with 13 kills on a .345 hitting percentage, and showed some versatility with four block assists. Lenore also outperformed Trojan freshman sensation Lucas Yoder, who hit -.077 in 13 attacks.

Lenore’s productive debut earned him the Off the Block National Freshman of the Week award on Jan. 27, giving him and his team national recognition with their strong play against tougher opponents. Lenore would not let up, pounding 20 more kills at the Pacific Tigers (1-8, 0-6) in a 3-2 victory and a team-high 11 kills against the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (5-4, 2-4) in a loss. His efforts against the Tigers and Cardinal earned him an honorable mention for the same Off the Block award.

Although Lenore has easily been the Matadors’ most productive player, he still has much to learn, Campbell said.

“Part of getting better as a freshman is the experience,” Campbell said. “He’s got to be out there playing against competition in order to get better. Physically, he’s got all the gifts. It’s just a matter of experience and playing against good competition.”

Redshirting during his first year at CSUN was the best possible learning experience, according to Lenore, as he said everything was “slightly off” last season.

Lenore admits that he still needs to improve other parts of his game, not just hitting.
“I’m slowly improving at everything else,” Lenore said. “It’s going to take some time for the whole nine yards, improving my passing and other areas of the game.”

One aspect of Lenore’s game that has been spot on has been his chemistry with junior setter Travis Magorien.

“He gives me a solid option,” Magorien said. “I have confidence in setting him during broken plays. He fuels a lot of confidence and carries a lot of weight of the offense.”

The emergence of Lenore and his high kill totals are one reason Magorien sits at 21st in the nation in assists per set with 9.38.

The Matadors have been using a pipe set, which propelled the win over the Trojans and has allowed Lenore to see his production skyrocket. The pipe set uses an attack from the back row.

“As an offense we try to fool the other team, sometimes someone coming out of the back row is a little bit of a surprise,” Campbell said.

Although opponents now know who the Matadors will be going to in crunch time, Lenore will be up for the challenge, unfazed by the moment.

“It’s my first year, so I’m just really excited to be out there playing,” Lenore said.

With seven of their next ten games at home, the Matadors will try and use their home court advantage to jump in the MPSF standings, where they are currently tied at seventh with the Hawai’i Warriors (5-4, 3-3 MPSF).