THE COLLEGES / MIKE HISERMAN : CSUN Clears the Air Then Secures Playoff Berth

With six matches left in the regular season, a playoff berth seemed assured for the Cal State Northridge men's volleyball team--until a four-game losing streak turned certainty into doubt.

The Matadors needed at least one victory in their last two matches to clinch their first playoff appearance, and both matches were on the road against Brigham Young.

So what does one do?

If you're Coach John Price, you call a team meeting.

The move might have scored few points for originality, but at least it was effective.

After a nearly three-hour meeting April 5, Northridge swept its final two Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. matches and just might pull an upset or two in the WIVA's postseason tournament beginning Wednesday at CSUN.

Price had called team meetings before but never at such length. "I had no intention of it lasting that long," he said, "but there was a lot said.

"It wasn't yelling and screaming. It was mostly me begging and pleading. We were really down on ourselves and I was trying to make a point that we were still in a great spot."

Price did most of the talking, except when the players asked him to leave so they could hash out problems among themselves.

There had been an unusual amount of finger-pointing during the team's losing streak, Price said. Some teams might have talent enough to rise above such squabbles, but the 1990 Matadors are not among those.

"In volleyball, you really have a lot of egos," Price said. "More teams than not rely on pure talent. Our talent alone is not good enough. Our talent is good, but we still have to play together and we weren't doing it."

Price reminded the players of already established goals.

"We wanted to make the league tournament," Price said. "But we also wanted to be the type of team that played together, encouraging each other.

"But the point of the whole thing at the end was, is this just talk, or are we really going to do what we're talking about?"

So far, it appears as though the players are serious. Northridge is 13-10 and ranked eighth in Division I. Since the two wins at BYU, Price said, there has not been a bad practice.

Bird in the hand: Price spent most of Thursday morning driving to a recruit's home, believing that he would return with a signed letter of intent. Instead, the player changed his mind and asked for a few more days to decide.

Such is the life of a college coach. But no matter how frustrating things get on the recruiting trail, Price knows that he already has one ace in the hole.

Bill Ortgiesen, a 6-foot-6 outside hitter, is an impact player waiting in the wings. Ortgiesen, a transfer from UC Santa Barbara who is redshirting this season, already might be the team's best passer, according to Price.

Prime time: Thursday's setback aside, Price has found a receptive audience on the recruiting trail this season.

"It's funny, but when you win it's like your opinion is valid all of a sudden," Price said. Credit CSUN's three-game sweep of Pepperdine on live cable television with an assist.

In previous years on the summer-camp circuit, Price often found himself explaining where Northridge was--even to players from such Southland areas as Orange County and Manhattan Beach.

"Now when I call a kid or a coach and say, 'I don't know if you're familiar with our program, but . . .' They'll say, 'Oh, yeah, I saw you guys on Prime Ticket. You guys are good.' "

Two-liners: Kevin Franklin, the former Taft High guard and The Times' Valley Player of the Year in 1987, has left the Nevada Reno basketball team, citing personal reasons. Franklin led Reno in scoring with a 19.2 average last season, but he struggled after the death of his mother in January, never again scoring more than 20 points in a game. . .

With Scott Sharts back in pitching form, Northridge Coach Bill Kernen has been able to set a pitching rotation for the first time this season. CSUN's starters in four games next week will be the same as they were this week--Sharts, Craig Clayton, Vale Lopez and freshman John Bushart. . .

The Northridge softball team can secure its eighth consecutive California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship by winning three of four games against Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Dominguez Hills this weekend. CSUN (7-1 in conference play) needs at least a split against Bakersfield (10-2), which has beaten the Lady Matadors in six of their past eight meetings over two years. . .

Percy Knox of Arizona moved into second place on the Pacific-10 Conference list in the long jump with a personal best of 26 feet 3 inches in a meet last Saturday. As an Antelope Valley High senior, Knox won the 1987 state title. . .

Paavo Salmi, the Cal Lutheran tennis player who suffered a collapsed lung while playing in a hockey game last month, returned to the court Thursday when CLU played at Westmont. Salmi, who still has separated ribs, will have to work his way back up the ladder to the No. 1 position he had held.

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