It was supposed to be a year of rebuilding. Instead, it has been yet another year of rejoicing.
The Cal State Northridge soccer team, missing the nucleus that led it to the NCAA Division II championship match last season, rallied from a slow start to win a share of its fifth consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Assn. title.
The Matadors, ranked 12th, open the Western regional playoffs against seventh-ranked Cal State Hayward at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at North Campus Stadium.
The winner will advance to the quarterfinals in Seattle where it will meet third-ranked Seattle Pacific (15-5-0), 1 of 4 teams in the 12-team playoff field granted a first-round bye. This year’s Final Four will be played Dec. 2-3 or 3-4 at a site to be determined.
“If we didn’t get to the playoffs I would have taken it as a failure,” said Northridge Coach Marwan Ass’ad, who was voted CCAA Coach of the Year. “I thought we could win the conference, but when the season started we were playing without emotion. The kids came a long way and they have a long way to go.”
Hayward Coach Colin Lindores said that he is looking forward to playing Northridge, which eliminated the Pioneers in the quarterfinals of the 1984 playoffs.
“It’s always fun to play the team that knocked you out the last time,” said Lindores, who is in his 13th year at Hayward.
Lindores, however, said that he is not preparing a specific strategy to defeat the Matadors this time around.
“A lot of coaches concern themselves heavily with scouting the opposition and talking to the other coaches, but we’re not at the level where players execute that consistently,” Lindores said. “I did that before and I think I created too many problems for our players.”
Northridge (15-7 overall, 8-2 in conference play) tied for the CCAA title with 15th-ranked Cal State Dominguez Hills and then won an automatic berth in the regional by defeating the Toros, 3-1, in a one-match playoff last Sunday.
The Matadors and Toros tied for the conference title when the Matadors defeated Chapman, 3-0, in their regular-season finale on Saturday and Dominguez Hills defeated Bakersfield.
Scott Piri, a redshirt freshman forward from Burroughs (Ridgecrest) High, spurred the Matadors’ win over Dominguez Hills with 2 of his team-high 11 goals.
Senior forward Steve Lazarus (10 goals, 6 assists)--the conference player of the year--and sophomore forward Jim Hofferber (7 goals, 3 assists) also played key roles for the Matadors, as did sophomore goalkeeper Jeff Blumkin, who has 7 shutouts.
Hayward (14-3-3, 9-2-1), the champion of the Northern California Athletic Conference, has won 16 of its past 17 matches and is making its first playoff appearance since 1984.
The Pioneers are led by sophomore forward Keith Switzer, who has 6 goals and 6 assists. Switzer had 2 goals, including the game-winner, against San Francisco State in the match that clinched the NCAC title.
Junior forward Dan Orcutt (6 goals, 3 assists), junior midfielder Ignacio Navarette (3 goals, 9 assists) and freshman goalkeeper Greg Herrick, who has 7 shutouts and a 1.10 goals-against average, are other important players for the Pioneers.
New Hampshire (22-1), ranked No. 1, is the top-seeded team in the Northeast region. Fifth-ranked Florida Tech (12-6-0) is the top-seeded entry in the South and second-ranked Oakland (Mich.) 15-2-3 is the top-seeded team in the Central region.