Northridge’s Quest for Volleyball Title Starts on Own Court
Shortly after learning that Cal State Northridge was selected to play host to the NCAA Division II Western regional playoffs, the Lady Matadors lost their last volleyball match of the regular season.
An indication of things to come?
It had better not be if CSUN (31-7) expects to earn its eighth consecutive berth in the Final Four. Northridge begins the quest for its second Division II championship in five years Saturday. The Lady Matadors will play the winner of tonight’s match between No. 4-seeded UC Riverside (17-14) and No. 5 San Francisco State (21-7).
But if CSUN Coach Walt Ker was annoyed over the nonconference loss to U. S. International University last week, it doesn’t appear to be causing him great concern.
“I think the girls were extremely distracted,” Ker said. “We needed to play a great match to beat them and we didn’t. We’re just going to write that one off.”
While Northridge is a heavy favorite to win the regional, it cannot afford to write off the other four teams.
Four of the five teams have won Division II titles, including defending champion Riverside. San Francisco State is the only team that has not played in postseason competition.
CSUN, the No. 1-seeded team, brings its usual impeccable credentials into postseason play. The Lady Matadors, who were undefeated in California Collegiate Athletic Assn. play for the third consecutive year, ended the regular season as the top-ranked team in Division II after winning their fifth consecutive CCAA title.
But Ker isn’t putting stock in CSUN’s ranking going into regional action. Being the favorite didn’t help Northridge in the championship match against Riverside last season.
“The rankings mean zilch right now,” Ker said. “Performance means everything.”
If CSUN advances to Sunday’s regional championship, it will play the winner of Saturday’s match between Cal State Sacramento (32-11), the No. 2-seeded team, and No. 3 Portland State (24-14). Northridge has defeated the Hornets three times and Portland State twice this season.
Portland State will start four sophomores against Sacramento because its regular lineup has been depleted by injuries. Outside hitters Cathy Kuntz, a 5-9 junior, is out for the season because of a broken foot and Shelley Rumberger has missed five weeks because of a severe ankle sprain.
“Up until November, we had a real good season,” Portland State Coach Jeff Mozzochi said. “We’re just going to have to regroup.”
Portland State has advanced to postseason play 10 consecutive years and won national championships in 1984 and ’85.
Sacramento, an independent, earned a berth in the regional by finishing first in the Northwest Region. Sacramento Coach Debby Colberg expects a difficult match Saturday against Portland, also an independent and the No. 2 team from the Northwest Region.
“In terms of skills, they’re a little better,” Colberg said. “We’re probably better defensively.”
If Sacramento gets by Portland State, Colberg is not looking forward to playing Northridge in the regional final.
“Beating Northridge on its home court is really going to be a tough job for any team,” Colberg said. “I think we’re real similar to Northridge because neither team has any real stars.”
In tonight’s match, Riverside needs a win to set up a rematch of last year’s national championship game against Northridge. The Highlanders finished second in the CCAA with a 10-2 record, their only two losses coming to CSUN.
“We have as good a chance of winning it as San Francisco does,” Riverside Coach Sue Gozansky said. “I’m satisfied with those odds at this point.”
Seniors Melanie Jones and Ann Maeva, All-CCAA first-team selections, lead Riverside’s offense. Jones, the only returning full-time starter from the 1986 championship team, leads the Highlanders in kills.
For San Francisco State, a berth in the Final Four would cap a record-setting season. The Gators won their last 10 matches to clinch a second consecutive Northern California Athletic Conference title with an 11-1 record. It will be their first postseason appearance.
Junior Angela Johnson, a 5-11 middle blocker, led San Francisco State to its best finish in school history. Johnson was the conference’s most-valuable player and one of five Gators named to an All-NCAC team.
“Riverside is going to be as tough a match as we’ve had all season,” San Francisco State Coach Kathy Argo said. “They’re a good, ball-control team, very solid in the basic skills of defense and good fundamentals. We need to reduce our errors against them.”
CSUN plays in a 7:30 p.m. match Saturday after the Sacramento-Portland State match at 5:30 p.m.