The Matador men’s volleyball team (15-11, 8-10) swept the visiting fourth-ranked Brigham Young Cougars (16-9, 11-7), 30-19, 30-16, and 30-28 on Saturday night at Wells Fargo Court. The Matadors rebounded after losing to the Cougars the previous night on the same floor in four games in front of the home crowd 21-30, 30-25, 20-30, and 28-30.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs,” Head Coach Jeff Campbell said. “We need to win two of our four last games, and see what everyone else does. Friday night we were pressing. Tonight we played our game serving better (and) having 10 fewer misses than last night.”
In Saturday’s match, the Matadors came out a different team. The most visible difference was senior setter Jeff Conover shaving his beard (a beard fit for Paul Bunyan) which he began growing during their five game winning streak.
“I wanted to start a new trend after losing last night, so I shaved and took a shower,” said Conover. “With the win, I will start growing my beard again.”
The Matadors opened game one losing the first point when Conover tried a soft serve that was killed by the Cougars’ Matt Levoe. The Cougars returned the ball long after the Matadors controlled their serve, handing CSUN its first point of the game and tying the match.
The score was tied 11 times with neither team able to stretch the lead by more than one-point. The Matadors however, took control of the game when senior outside hitter Nils Nielsen leaped high, killing the ball against the outstretched arms of the Cougars.
This caused the ball to skid across the front of the net and out of bounds. That play put the Matadors up 13-12. A few plays later, a host of Matadors blocked a BYU shot making the score 15-12.
Momentum began to rise for the Matadors as they pulled out to a four-point lead. Sophomore James Lischer and junior Cary Hanson blocked BYU’s Ivan Perez’ shot attempt causing the ball to bounce back in his face and giving the Matadors a 19-15 lead.
The Matadors stretched their lead even further after a furious exchange with the ball going back and forth, until the Cougars were called for an over the net infringement, making the score 26-19.
The Matadors earned the game winning point when a BYU shot attempt was short of the net, falling out of bounds at the bottom of the referee stand, giving the Matadors the point and game one 30-19.
“Serving was the biggest key to our win,” Nielsen said. “We did not let them (BYU) get on any rolls tonight. They served us off the court last night, and that’s what we did to them tonight.”
In the second game, the matadors continued their momentous play by jumping out to a 19-10 lead after a high-energy block on a BYU kill attempt by Conover and Junior Brian Waite. Conover then served up an ace that Perez could not return, extending the Matador lead to 27-13.
The Matador’s served for game point, but the serve was killed by Victor Batista of BYU, making the score 29-16. On the next play, Waite blocked the BYU return, earning the final point for the Matadors, who won game two 30-16.
“Over the years, I have learned Cal State (Northridge) is very well coached, so they beat us in all categories tonight,” said BYU Head Coach Tom Peterson. “If they play as well as they did tonight, they will not have a problem making the playoffs. They seem to be better mentally prepared after a loss then we would be.”
The third game was a hard fought battle that had the Matadors going for the sweep, while BYU was trying to get a win to start the comeback. The lead went back and fourth until the Matadors killed a BYU serve, pulling ahead of the Cougars 25-24.
The Matadors earned another point when Neilson’s serve was returned long by BYU, making the score 26-24. Neilson continued to serve outstandingly, along with earning a monster kill, that had him beaming a huge smile as the team came together to congratulate him on making the score 27-25.
Conover served the ball but had it promptly killed by Michael Burke of BYU cutting the Matadors lead to just one, 29-28. On the next play, Casey Patterson of BYU served to the Matadors, but Nielsen killed it on a setup play, giving the Matadors the game, and winning the match against BYU in straight sets.
“We had the five-game streak against not the highest levels of teams,” Neilsen said. “It was a tough transition to play a top-ranked BYU team (but) we were able to clean up our play just enough to get the win tonight.”
On Wednesday, the Matadors will serve up the ball at 7 p.m. against UCLA (22-3, 15-3) ranked no. 2 in the nation at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood.
“We need to play like we did tonight (to keep winning),” said Campbell. “We have won six of our last seven. We’re feeling pretty confident right now. UCLA is a very good, well-rounded team. They serve well, and we’re going to have to pass well to win.”
On Saturday night, UCLA beat Stanford (ranked 10th in the nation) in four games (25-30, 35-33, 30-21, 36-34) at Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, CA.
“When we go to UCLA, we’re going to try to do the same things we did to win against BYU,” Conover said. “Serve and pass — those are our two main things. If we can pass well, we can side out. If we serve hard, nobody can stop us.”
In the Matadors’ second and final game of their road trip, they travel to UC Irvine (7-18, 5-13) Saturday to face the Anteaters who just snapped a nine-match losing streak with a 3-2 (30-28, 27-30, 30-23, 28-30, 15-12) win over eleventh ranked Pacific (12-15, 6-13).