Penn State is a mystery to Cal State Northridge and John Price, the Matadors' volleyball coach.
The Nittany Lions (20-4) are Northridge's opponent today at 6 p.m. in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I national championship tournament at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. But other than a few statistics, Price has nothing to go on.
"They haven't played any West Coast teams and we have no film on them," Price said this week. "I know they have a great record, but their schedule was extremely weak. That's what scares me the most. We have no indication of how good they are."
So, instead of occupying his time planning for Penn State, Price has been concentrating on priming his own team. He fears the fourth-ranked Matadors might look past the 10th-ranked Nittany Lions toward an expected showdown with UCLA for the championship on Saturday. The top-ranked Bruins (22-3) play Ohio State (28-8) tonight at 8 in the other semifinal.
Win or lose tonight, Northridge (22-9) will play the following day. Price just wants to make sure the Matadors play at 7:30 p.m. in the title match, not at 5 p.m. for third place.
Northridge has a history of looking past an opponent when anticipating a matchup against the Bruins. Earlier this season, the Matadors were upset by USC in the first round of the UCLA/J.P. Mitchell Classic at Pauley Pavilion.
"They were looking forward to playing UCLA on Prime Ticket in the championship match," Price said. "The only problem was, UCLA got there and we didn't."
Price has been watching and listening closely this week for signs that Northridge might be headed toward a repeat performance. So far, he has been satisfied.
"Everything the guys are saying and doing seems to be geared toward Penn State," Price said.
The Nittany Lions won the championship of the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. and earned an automatic berth in the final four by sweeping Springfield, Navy and George Mason, all in three games. However, Penn State has not played a team ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Assn. final top 10.
David Muir, a second-team All-American at outside hitter, leads the Nittany Lions with 410 kills. Middle blocker Ramon Hernandez has 372 kills and is the team leader with 116 blocks, 213 digs and a 39.7 hitting percentage.
UCLA, which has the nation's best record and biggest lineup, is expected to sweep past Ohio State. Price said UCLA "would have to have a horrendous match to lose. And they haven't had one all year."
The Bruins are playing on their home court and have tradition on their side. UCLA has played in 16 NCAA championship tournaments, winning 13. The Bruins also are undefeated in 20 playoff matches on their home floor.
Middle blocker Jeff Nygaard and setter Mike Sealy, both first-team All-Americans, pace UCLA. The Bruins have not played Penn State or Ohio State this season, but they are 2-0 against Northridge, having swept the Matadors twice.
Northridge has won six in a row, including a sweep of fifth-ranked Cal State Long Beach on Saturday in the championship match of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. The victory gave Northridge its first Division I final four berth in any sport.
The Matadors are led by All-Americans Coley Kyman, a middle blocker, and Axel Hager, an outside hitter. Ken Lynch, who plays opposite Hager, was the most valuable player in the MPSF tourney, accounting for more than 30 kills in each of Northridge's victories.
Tickets for tonight's matches and tomorrow's third-place and championship matches are on sale at the Pauley Pavilion ticket office. Almost 2,000 two-day ticket packages have been sold, according to the UCLA sports information office. Prices are $9 for students and $11 for adults. . . . Tonight's semifinals will be broadcast Sunday, beginning at 2:30 p.m., by Prime Ticket. Saturday's championship match will be broadcast by CBS on May 23 at 10 a.m.