Volleyball team looks to continue magical run

The CSUN men’s volleyball team (19-13) will travel to Malibu tonight to face top-ranked Pepperdine (20-2) at 5:00 p.m. in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament final four.

The winner will play the winner of the match between UC Santa Barbara (16-13) and Long Beach State (21-9) for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship Final Four.

The Matadors have played great the past few weeks leading to the upcoming match with the Waves, upsetting No. 2 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion to advance in the playoffs. The Matadors won their first ever home playoff game the week before against Stanford, which was also their first playoff win since 1996, when they reached the semifinals.

The Matadors also picked up some individual honors with outside hitter Nils Nielsen being named a Third Team selection on the 2005 All-MPSF Men’s Volleyball Team. Brian Waite was also given an honorable mention at the middle blocker spot.

“It’s fantastic to be named to the (All-MPSF) team,” said Nielsen, who leads the Matadors in kills per game averaging 4.06 with 921 total attacks. “I have always been named honorable mention, so it’s kind of nice to end on a high note, and that’s what I feel like I’m doing.”

“Beating UCLA is the best memory I have of my career as of now playing at CSUN,” Nielsen said. “But the coolest thing was that it was a team effort. I did not do anything in the fifth game, it was everyone else that really stepped it up. A real team effort, which was great.”

The Matadors will be facing a highly decorated Waves team, starting with senior outside hitter Sean Rooney, who was named the 2005 MPSF player of the year and was also named all-First Team player. Setter Jonathan Winder was named freshman of the year.

Rooney is averaging 5.30 kills per game while Winder is averaging 13.59 assists per game. The Waves also had middle blocker Andy Hein named to the all MPSF second team, and Jon Mayer earning a spot on the all MPSF third team.

“Rooney had a good year (and) Winder was one of several good freshman in the league,” said Waves head coach Marv Dunphy, the MPSF Coach of the Year, in his 22nd season.

“I’m not big on individual awards in a team sport,” Dunphy said. “It’s nice for them to be recognized by the people in their sport for doing well, but it’s pretty low-key around here. We never have talked about it, and as long as I’m here we never will. We try to do well as a team.”

Pepperdine has owned the Matadors, winning 40 of the 55 encounters between the teams since 1978. Under coach Jeff Campbell’s eight-year reign, the Matadors are 1-17 against Pepperdine.

The Matadors last defeated the Waves 3-2 at Northridge on Feb. 13, 2004, and have not claimed victory on the Pepperdine campus since Feb. 20 1996, when they won 3-1.

“We are going to fine tune our offense,”Campbell said. “We just need to pass and serve. That’s the most important thing for us to be successful. We have to serve well to keep Pepperdine on their heels.”

Some of the Matadors will look to achieve their personal bests again against the Waves. James Lischer had a season-best 25 kill attempts against the Waves April 15. In the same game, Waite had a personal best with four aces.

The last time Pepperdine played competitive volleyball was the April 15 game against the Matadors, in which they won 3-1 at Northridge. In the game, the Matadors jumped out to a six-point lead in the first game only to relax and see Pepperdine capture the lead and then the game.

The Matadors were able to win game two before losing games three and four. On that evening the Waves earned 23.5 blocks, causing the Matadors to have 146 attack attempts and hitting a paltry .123 compared to the Waves, who had 130 attack attempts and hit .285. The Matadors only mustered seven blocks in the loss.

“Rooney is the best player in the country,” said Matador setter Jeff Conover, who’s averaging 12.45 assists per game. “So we have to respect him, we have to try to stop him and have Sebastian (Pedraza) dig as many balls as he can.”

“We will run a more sophisticated offense.” Conover said. “To keep them on their toes since they have really big blockers, keeping them moving so they can’t block us like they did last time.”

The Matadors have had their most success this season when winning game one or leading the match in kills, blocks, digs or attack percentage.

The Waves ended the Matadors season last year in the MPSF tournament by winning 3-0 (30-25, 30-27, 30-27) and in the 2002 MPSF Tournament 3-0 (30-18, 30-25, 31-29).

The MPSF final four was set when Long Beach State beat fourth seeded Hawaii 3-1 in Honolulu, and the Gauchos knocked off defending MPSF and NCAA champion BYU, 3-2 in Provo, Utah.