When Raphael Tulino's jump serve caught the left corner on the sixth match point Thursday night at Pepperdine, the Cal State Northridge players erupted in an ocean of emotion.
For the second consecutive year, the Matadors entered Firestone Fieldhouse, replete with its three national championship banners, and rode the Waves right out of their own gymnasium in three games. The scores this time were 15-11, 15-13, 15-10.
The tide has definitely turned in this series. Northridge, which lost 17 of the first 18 meetings, has now won four of five, including three in a row.
"It's really nice to win here," said Neil Coffman, who led Northridge with 15 kills. "This is our first 'real' match in a while, and we rose to the occasion."
Especially Tulino, who recorded a match-high 14 blocks (five unassisted) as the third-ranked Matadors (9-2, 5-1 in the Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. DeGroot Division) outblocked Pepperdine, 35-16.
"I think I was in what is known as a zone tonight," Tulino said. "I just knew it was there and I took advantage of it. We scrapped, we fought, we beat them.
"We were the better team tonight."
The Matadors' defensive prowess at the net was something new to Northridge Coach John Price.
"It surprised the hell out of me," Price said. "They finally did some of the things we've been telling them to do all season, and that's to not block so high but just get their hand over the net. That's what Ralph (Tulino) did--he blocked low and tight.
The first game was an ebb-and-flow battle as Northridge moved out to a 5-1 lead only to see Pepperdine (6-3, 3-3) tie the score, 5-5, when Coley Kyman hit into the net.
Northridge made its move at that point, scoring eight of the next nine points, Tulino accounting for four kills during the run. Pepperdine pulled to within 14-11, but Bill Ortgiesen tipped the ball off a blocker for the winning point and his only kill of the game.
Ortgiesen made his first start in place of Ken Lynch, who missed a practice this week, and the junior hitter's game point made up for several earlier mishits and poor passes.
Northridge trailed nearly the entire way in game two, but fought back to tie, 13-13, and won when Tulino stuffed Brian Merrick's spike. Merrick, frustrated all night by Tulino, grabbed the net in frustration after the block.
The Matadors rebounded from a 3-0 deficit in game three and reeled off 10 of the next 11 points for a 10-4 lead. Pepperdine got as close as 11-9, but Tulino's serve sealed the win on the sixth match point.
Tulino finished with 12 kills, and an inspired Mark Root, who played two years for Pepperdine before transferring to Northridge, added 11 kills.
Next up for the Matadors is top-ranked USC, the defending national champion, at Northridge on Wednesday.