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CSUN Looks for Fast Start : Volleyball: Matador women, who open today at Boise State, finished in a rush last season. In the absence of the Dixon twins, they will rely heavily on defense.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Cal State Northridge women’s volleyball team hopes to pick up where it left off when it faces Idaho State today in its season opener at the Boise State Labor Day Classic.

Northridge won 11 of its final 12 matches last fall, including five of six at the Women’s Invitation Volleyball Classic--volleyball’s equivalent to the National Invitation Tournament in men’s basketball.

Northridge concluded its inaugural foray into Division I competition with a second-place finish in the WIVC and now faces the challenge of great expectations. Even with 10 players back from last season’s 29-9 team, putting together another strong season won’t be easy.

Kathleen and Marianne Dixon, the twin towers who for four years dominated the middle for Northridge, have completed their eligibility.

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Without their attacking skills, the Matadors’ strength is defense, led by senior Karen Scholl and junior Dawn Krenik.

“I really don’t see us being the super dominant attacking or blocking team right now and if that’s not the case, consistency--winning the long rally and having our attackers continue to develop each week--is going to be the key question for us this year,” Northridge Coach Walt Ker said.

Freshmen Ana Kristich and Melissa Clements, teammates on La Habra High teams that won state championships the past two seasons, need to make an immediate impact.

Ker expects Kristich, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker with just one full year of volleyball experience, to develop into a dominant player once she settles in.

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Clements, a 5-11 left-side hitter, was penciled in to start against Idaho State until she incurred an abdominal pull.

Alison Wool, a redshirt sophomore, is entrenched as the setter. She was a starter in 1989 but redshirted last season after losing her position to Washington State transfer Beth Welch.

Shelly Swalec, the right-side hitter, saw considerable playing time before being felled by a groin injury last October. The left side is set with juniors Patricia Fitzsimmons and Nancy Nicholls.

Fitzsimmons had 339 digs, second on the team behind Kathleen Dixon, and Nicholls was third behind both Dixons with 318 kills. If Clements can’t play in the tournament, Nicholls might be moved outside to replace her, with redshirt freshman Debbie Breuche joining the lineup.

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Ker, in his 12th season as Northridge coach, faces a major task in trying to replace the Dixon twins, who finished their careers ranked first or second on the school’s all-time list for kills, attempts, solo blocks, block assists, total blocks and games.

“We had a good first year in Division I at 29-9 and Kathy and Marianne were a pretty important part of that,” Ker said. “Replacing them is one of the many question marks that we have.”

A strong field at the Boise State tournament should help provide Ker with at least some of the answers. Brigham Young, ranked ninth in Volleyball Monthly magazine’s preseason poll, heads a field that includes Northern Iowa and Utah in addition to Idaho State, Northridge and host Boise State.

Of the tournament teams, only Utah failed to earn a postseason bid last season. Idaho State, the defending Big Sky Conference champion, and BYU played in the NCAA tournament. Northern Iowa, Boise State and Northridge competed in the WIVC.

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The tournament will be played in modified round-robin format in which the team with the best overall record will be named champion. Northridge will play Boise State tonight at 8 and the Matadors have Saturday matches against Utah at noon and BYU at 4 p.m.


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