The CSUN men’s volleyball season came to a close Thursday night after they lost 3-1(32-30, 30-28, 28-30, 30-19) to the top-ranked Pepperdine Waves in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation final four in Malibu.
“One of the biggest differences in the match was that (Pepperdine) had Sean Rooney,” said CSUN coach Jeff Campbell. “Our outside hitter didn’t play nearly as well.”
Rooney, the 2005 MPSF player of the year, finished the game with a match-high 23 kills, while being allowed to play through nine attack errors.
On the other side of the court, there was no love lost for the Matadors’ big gun all season Nils Nielsen. With the Matadors losing the first two games by two points, and then opening up game three down 3-1, Campbell subbed out the Matadors’ hardest-hitting arm, Nielsen. Nielsen remained on the bench until the fourth game after the Waves had a decisive 25-15 lead.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow,” Nielsen said. “I wasn’t playing well. Coach (Campbell) made the right decision and it just sucks it has to end like that.”
Nielsen finished the match with nine kills on 26 attempts with 11 attacking errors.
With Nielson subbed out, the Matadors, who finish the season with a 19-14 record, battled back and forth with the Waves, taking a 19-18 lead after a Pepperdine kill attempt sailed long. The Matadors’ James Lischer killed the ball to give the Matadors a 26-23 lead in game three. Lischer finished the game leading the Matadors in kills, with 16 on 28 attack attempts.
“Nils is probably one of the classiest guys in the league,” Rooney said. “So it’s always fun to play against people like that. I was definitely aware Nils wasn’t in the game. He’s a great hitter who has a great arm, and when that’s missing from the game, that’s something we try to take advantage of.”
“I have played against Nils at least 11 times over the past four years,” Rooney said. “I can’t see the numbers when I’m on the court, but I know when he’s on the court he’s making a positive impact. If the coach takes him out its going to be a relief for us.”
That relief was evident after Rooney hit a return long that the Matadors were slow in reacting to. The ball landed just barely long, giving the Matadors game three. The Waves, now 22-2 overall, opened game four with two Rooney kills to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The Waves extended their lead to 12-8 on a Matador lift violation.
“We got better as the match went on,” said Pepperdine coach Marv Dunphy. “We seemed to serve better and block better as the game wore on. We didn’t make very good plays on easy balls early.”
Game four saw Rooney serve up four aces, ending the evening with five total. The Waves went on a five-point run before the Matadors subbed Nielsen back in to see Pepperdine serve long, making the score 26-16.
“The problem was passing,” Campbell said. “We weren’t terminating the ball and I don’t know if (bringing back Nielsen) would have helped us much. If we win game one, (in which) we had two serves (to win) game point, we have a different match.”
The Waves closed out the Matadors’ season when John Parfitt killed the ball off three Matador players, ending the match along with Nielsen and Jeff Conover’s playing careers at CSUN.
“In game four we looked tired,” said Campbell. “We did not look good at all. Our serving was bad; we missed three of four serves at the beginning. They were bad serves not good at all.”
Campbell now has two back-to-back 19-win seasons, the first time for a Matador club since 1991 through 1993, when the Matadors finished two of those seasons with 20 wins. In the 1993 season, the Matadors won the MPSF championship before losing the national championship to UCLA 3-0.
Pedraza finished the evening scooping up 16 digs. Conover had 10 digs to go with his match-high 51 set attempts. For Pepperdine, Parfitt had 13 kills and nine digs.
The Matadors were out-blocked by Pepperdine 18 to 6.5, causing the Matadors to hit for a team total of .222 on 158 attack attempts compared to .245 on 151 attack attempts for the home team. The Matadors lone bright spot was totaling more kills on the evening than the Waves, racking up 63, compared to Pepperdine’s 60.
Pepperdine has ended the Matadors season three of the last four years by beating them 3-0 in the first round of the 2002 MPSF tournament and again 3-0 in the first round in 2004.
“I just had a bad day,” Nielsen said. “I wish I could have had a good one, but no use beating yourself up over it. It’s the best season (we’ve had since) I have been at Northridge.”