Matadors Return to MPSF Play Hosting No. 1 Stanford and Pacific This Week

March 30, 2010

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Match #24

No. 1 Stanford (15-4, 12-4 MPSF) at No. 5 Northridge (16-7, 11-6 MPSF)

Friday, April 2, 2010 - 7 p.m. PDT

The Matadome (1,600) - Northridge, Calif.

Live Stats: (Gametracker)

Match #25

Pacific (8-16, 0-16 MPSF) at No. 5 Northridge (15-6, 11-6 MPSF)

Saturday, April 3, 2010 - 7 p.m. PDT

The Matadome (1,600) - Northridge, Calif.

Live Stats: (Gametracker)

FOR STARTERS After three straight non-conference matches, fifth-ranked Cal State Northridge (16-7, 11-6 MPSF) returns to conference play this week as the Matadors open a four-match homestand Friday against top-ranked Stanford (15-4, 12-4 MPSF). The homestand continues against Pacific (8-16, 0-16 MPSF) Saturday. Both matches begin at 7 p.m. in The Matadome. Northridge concludes the home portion of the 2010 regular season next week as the Matadors host UC Santa Barbara (Apr. 7) and Penn State (Apr. 10).

SERIES HISTORIES Friday's match between the Matadors and Stanford is the 57th meeting all-time between the two schools. Northridge trails 32-24 in the series but has claimed six of the last seven matches including a five-set win at Stanford on Jan. 29. The Matadors, who have won six straight over the Cardinal in Northridge, are an even 11-11 against the Cardinal in 22 matches in The Matadome. Saturday's match is the 29th meeting all-time between the Matadors and Pacific with Northridge holding a 20-8 lead in the series. The Matadors have won six straight and nine of the last 11 over the Tigers including a straight set win in Stockton on Jan. 30.

TO RECAP The two-match trip to Ball State got off to a good start Friday as Senior Kevin McKniff pounded a match-high 13 kills in the Matadors 30-22, 30-24, 30-28 straight set victory. In what was billed as a match between two teams with solid middles, McKniff stood tallest as the senior pounded a match-high 13 kills while hitting .632. He also added four aces and now has nine aces in his last three matches. Theo Edwards added 11 kills (.214) to go with one ace, three digs and two blocks. Jacek Ratajczak added eight kills (.176) and contributed a match-high six blocks (one solo). Matt Stork posted 37 assists and eight digs as Northridge hit .264 (48-19-110) as a team. Mike Gaudino also had seven kills (.353) and nine digs in the win. Saturday was a different story however as Northridge dropped the finale in straight sets. After hitting .264 in Friday's straight set win, the Matadors were limited to a .140 (40-25-107) clip on Saturday. John Baker was the lone Matador hitter to reach double figures putting down a match-high 13 kills while hitting .231. He also added six digs and one ace in the loss. No other Northridge hitter could muster more than seven kills as McKniff (.438) and Gaudino (-.077) each had seven while McKniff added three aces.

BALL STATE SPLIT DROPS MATADORS TO FIFTH IN AVCA TOP-15 Following a two-match split at unranked Ball State, Cal State Northridge slipped two spots to fifth in this week's AVCA Coaches Top-15 Poll. Northridge, which received a season-high 237 points on Feb. 1, earned 183 points this week and are now fifth after four straight weeks in the number three spot. Stanford (15-4), which became the fourth team this season to hold down the top spot, remained number one for the third straight week as the Cardinal earned all 16 first-place votes. Pepperdine (13-6) remained second followed by BYU (16-7) and Hawai'i (15-8) which both overtook the Matadors this week. USC (11-9), UCLA (14-9) and Long Beach State (12-11) all moved up a spot this week  while Penn State (18-5) dropped to ninth UC Santa Barbara (10-13) is 10th. The final five spots in this week's poll are held down by UC Irvine (11-12), Loyola-Chicago (16-3), Ohio State (14-7), UC San Diego (8-15) and Ball State (13-8). Northridge has now been ranked in the AVCA Top-15 for 146 consecutive weeks. The last time the Matadors did not rank among the nation's top-15 was the first poll (Jan. 15) of the 2002 season. By earning three number one rankings this season, Northridge has spent a total of six weeks as the number one team in its history.

MPSF TOURNAMENT CHASE The battle for the postseason begins in earnest this week. The Matadors can solidify their ninth consecutive trip to the MPSF Tournament with two wins this weekend OR two Losses by both UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine. Stanford (12-4) currently holds a one game lead over both Pepperdine (11-5) and BYU (12-6) and a 1.5 game lead over Northridge (11-6). Hawai'i (11-7) is two games back with UCLA (9-7) three back. The battle for the final tournament spots will come down to USC (8-8), Long Beach State (8-8), UC Santa Barbara (7-10) and UC Irvine (6-10).

MCKNIFF RACKS UP THE ACES Senior middle blocker Kevin McKniff has vaulted to second in the MPSF in aces over the last two weeks. McKniff had 20 aces over the first 19 matches of the season, but has 12 over his last three matches including a career-high five at UC Santa Barbara on Mar. 10. Now the team leader in aces with 32 (0.29 per game), McKniff is closing in on his season career-high of 36 set last season. With 113 career aces, he has moved past Raphael Tulino (109) and Mike Gaudino (108) and into third place on the Matadors' career aces list. McKniff had seven aces in two matches at Ball State including four in Friday's 3-0 win.

ALL OR NOTHING OVER LAST FIVE It's been all or nothing for the Matadors over their last five matches. Northridge was swept by Hawai'i on Mar. 6 and has since swept UC Santa Barbara (Mar. 10), Loyola-Chicago (Mar. 13) and Ball State (Mar. 26) before Ball State returned the favor and swept the Matadors on Mar. 27. Northridge which was swept in straight sets just once in its first 18 matches (by UCLA on Jan. 22) has now been swept twice in its last five matches.

SECOND-TO-LAST HOMESTAND This week's home matches against Stanford and Pacific mark the second-to-last homestand of the season for the Matadors. Northridge will play its final home MPSF regular season match Wednesday, Apr. 7 against UCSB and will close out the regular season home schedule with a non-conference match against Penn State on Apr. 10. Prior to the Penn State match, the Matadors will honor seniors Theo Edwards, Mike Gaudino, Ali'i Keohohou, Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak. Northridge is still in contention to host a postseason tournament match. The Matadors are 1.5 games behind first-place Stanford with Pepperdine, BYU and Hawai'i also in the mix to host a tournament match.

NORTHRIDGE NOTES Last week's matches at Ball State in Muncie, Ind. were somewhat of a homecoming for John Baker and Jim Wielebnicki. Baker hails from nearby Racine, Wis. and Wielebnicki is from Darien, Ill. Baker had a match-high 13 kills in Saturday's loss while Wielebnicki saw brief action in Friday's win ... After trailing for most of the season in team blocking, the Matadors have closed the gap to 2.82 to 2.71 per game. Northridge has 230.5 total team blocks compared to 240 for their opponents. Ball State out-blocked the Matadors 15.5 to 6 in the finale ... The 3-0 loss to Ball State was the first to an unranked team in four matches this season. Northridge had previously defeated Cal Baptist, Pacific and Ball State ... Kevin McKniff and Jacek Ratajczak currently rank second and fourth respectively in hitting in the NCAA. McKniff is also 14th in aces per game. Matt Stork is also in the top-10 in assists as he currently ranks eighth. As a team, the Matadors rank as high as eighth in the nation in kills.

SCOUTING STANFORD (15-4, 12-4 MPSF) The top-ranked Cardinal travel to Northridge on Friday and UC Santa Barbara on Saturday. Stanford has won eight straight heading into this week's matches, the longest current streak in the MPSF. Last week, the Cardinal swept matches at Long Beach State and UC San Diego. Sophomore OH Brad Lawson, the current MPSF Player of the Week, averages a team-high 5.11 kpg which ranks second in the MPSF. Senior OPP Evan Romero adds 4.29 kpg to the Stanford attack. The Cardinal, 5-2 on the road this season, is hitting .365 as a team, tops in the nation.

SCOUTING PACIFIC (8-16, 0-16 MPSF) The Tigers travel to UC Santa Barbara on Friday before heading to Northridge on Saturday. Pacific, still looking for its first conference win, is 1-7 in road matches this season after dropping road contests at UC San Diego and Long Beach State last week. Freshman OH Taylor Hughes leads the Tigers averaging 3.79 kpg while hitting .244. Sophomore OH Florian Gornik adds 3.47 kpg for Pacific which is hitting .261 as a team. The Tigers have wins over UC Santa Cruz, Grand Canyon, Quincy and NJIT this season.