The Cal State Northridge women’s volleyball team tried to loosen up by ganging up on its coach last season before the championship match of the NCAA Division II championship in Portland.
A ring of Lady Matadors taped Walt Ker’s ankles and wrists, and even covered him in shaving cream. But the antics didn’t work. A couple of hours later, Portland State beat CSUN just as thoroughly as it had the year before.
With the 1986 season less than a week away, the Lady Matadors may have to try something more innovative. They will be without three-time All-Americans Heather Hafner and Shelli Mosby, who have seen their final side outs, but Ker thinks he still has a team that can be among Division II’s final four when tournament time returns in December.
The key to making the championship round again is attitude, according to team captain Karen Lontka.
“We need more consistency in our mental toughness,” she said, reflecting on last year’s performance. “We played great in the regionals, but in the championship games we were flat. We played with little or no emotion, as if we expected to walk right into the finals.”
With seven of last year’s players returning, and Chris Tedeschi and Kristin Choate coming off the redshirt list, the Lady Matadors will try to scratch a three-year itch. They won NCAA titles in 1980 and 1983, and three years later, it’s that time again.
“Three-year itch, huh?” Ker said. “And Ker’s scratching, right? Reporters like to say things like that to write their stories. If I had it my way, I’d like to win it every year.”
CSUN has won the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. title three years in a row, compiling a 35-1 conference record. The team has reached the national championship match four years in a row. It has not finished a season ranked lower than third nationally in the past six years. It has reached the national tournament seven straight times.
Yet Ker doesn’t think his team is merely rebuilding this year after losing Hafner and Mosby. Maybe reloading--and still aiming at Portland State--is a better way to put it.
“We have the deepest team we’ve ever had in my seven years as coach,” he said. “That says a lot. We’ve had some deep teams. Last year, we relied on setting and attacking a lot. But overall, I think our team defense will be outstanding. I expect us to be very tough to put a ball away against.
“I don’t know what kind of recruiting year Portland State had. The three girls they lost are of the same caliber as Heather and Shelli. My guess is, they won’t be as strong at the top, but I expect them to be one of the top four or five in the nation.”
Northridge begins the regular season Friday with a two-day tournament at UC Davis. The tournament field includes Division I schools UCLA, San Jose State, Louisville, California and Division II teams Portland State, UC Riverside, Sacramento State, Cal Poly Pomona. Hawaii Hilo, which has won the NAIA championship four of the past five years, also is entered.
Kathleen and Marianne Dixon, the 6-1 twins Coach Walt Ker recruited from Santa Monica High, will redshirt this season. . . . The Lady Matadors’ exhibition season begins Tuesday night at 7:30 with the alumni game, pitting the 1986 team against CSUN players from yesteryear. Among those who will challenge this year’s team are Hafner, Mosby, Kristy Olson, Vicki Gentry, Sue Razetto and Cathy Ker, the coach’s wife. . . . Karen Lontka injured her left knee Friday night in an intrasquad scrimmage, but she is not expected to miss any matches. “I always hurt myself on Friday so I have a nice long weekend to recover,” she said.