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COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL ROUNDUP : CSUN Lets Victory Slip Away Against 10th-Ranked USC

Perhaps it is part of the process all teams must endure on the road to becoming nationally recognized volleyball programs.

But for the Cal State Northridge women’s volleyball team, the path took a detour back to a familiar roadblock Friday night at Matador Gym.

Northridge, in its second year of NCAA Division I competition, pushed 10th-ranked USC to five games before falling to the unbeaten Trojans, 7-15, 13-15, 15-11, 15-9, 15-6, in a nonconference match before a boisterous crowd of 627.

The result marked the second year in a row that Northridge has fallen to perennial power USC in five games, and this one might have cost CSUN a national ranking.

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“One of our goals was to beat them and become a ranked team,” Northridge Coach Walt Ker said. "(But) we’re not ready to beat them yet from a mental standpoint. You can talk about how close you were all day long. But close doesn’t count.”

How close were they?

Behind the hitting of Ana Kristich (team-high 13 kills), Patty Fitzsimmons (12) and Nancy Nicholls (11), Northridge (7-5) jumped to a two-game lead and appeared to have all but taken the Trojans out of their game plan.

But a significant adjustment by the Trojans (9-0) and a major breakdown in the Northridge receiving game turned things completely around.

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“Sue Peters gave us a real change of tempo in our setting,” USC Coach Lisa Love said in reference to the insertion of reserve setter Peters in Game 3. “That was a big key and we turned it around.”

Not coincidentally, Game 3 also marked the demise of the CSUN passing game.

“I don’t think there was a doubt that we could come back,” said Fitzsimmons, who also had 14 digs and six aces. “We just didn’t do what we needed to do.”

CSUN’s receiving difficulties helped the Trojans finish with 20 aces--a Matador Gym record.

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Outside hitter Katie Haller led USC with 18 kills and 18 digs and teammate Marcela Morales added 13 kills, 12 digs and six aces. Peters finished with 21 set assists.

In a well-played first game that brought the crowd to life almost immediately, the Trojans appeared to be cruising toward a victory with a 7-3 lead when Ker called a timeout to halt the momentum.

Beginning with an authoritative kill by middle blocker Nicholls, the Matadors then proceeded to stun USC with an improbable 12-0 run to win the game.

The scoring run, which included aces by Nicholls and Karen Scholl (five aces for the match), concluded with a USC net violation on game point.

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In Game 2 Northridge continued its consistent passing game and held off a determined USC effort to even things up. Trailing, 10-8, the Matadors tied the game on a Fitzsimmons kill and then won it with a 5-3 run.

But USC, which lost the services of 6-foot-5 starting outside hitter Cica Baccelli to a sprained right ankle during pregame warmups, received a big lift when 6-3 middle blocker Lauri Yust came off the bench and began to assert herself at the net.


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