LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Sophomore Natalie Allen knocked down a team-high 12 kills to go with 18 digs as Cal State Northridge opened play at the UNLV Invitational with a hard-fought 29-27, 19-25, 25-18, 20-25, 15-10 victory over Eastern Washington on Friday.
The Matadors (5-3) have now won five of their last six matches and beat their former Big Sky Conference rivals for the first time since 1996.
Allen, who has steadied her play since the season-opening weekend in Utah, led CSUN with 12 kills (.189) while adding 18 digs, one ace and a pair of blocks. Fellow sophomore Mahina Haina, the Big West Player of the Week, added 11 kills (.222) in 36 swings to go with five digs and two blocks. Freshman Casey Hinger chipped in a career-high 10 kills (.269), four blocks and one ace.
Northridge out-hit Eastern Washington .206-.165 and the Matadors had a season-high 12.0 team blocks.
"Obviously we got the win tonight which is the important thing," said head coach Jeff Stork. "But I thought we were a little lethargic and my expectations based on the way we played in Sacramento are a little higher.
"Eastern Washington is a good serving team and it certainly wasn't our best passing match. There are also some things we still need to fix such as making errors after they make hitting errors but we'll be better tomorrow."
Eastern Washington took advantage of some timely aces and Matador miscues to open up an early 5-0 lead in set one. CSUN still trailed by three (11-8) before before a pair of co-blocks sandwiched around an Allen kill evened the set. Down 16-15, a solo block from Graff followed by a Gedryn kill gave the Matadors their first lead at 17-16. The Eagles wrestled back the lead at 19-18 and eventually opened up a 23-21 cushion on a Shelby Puckett put-away.
Another Allen kill followed by an Eastern Washington hitting error and an Allen ace gave Northridge set point at 24-23. The Eagles saved one set point and then another at 25-24 before giving themselves a set point at 26-25. A kill and ace from Hinger kill gave the Matadors a third set point at 27-26 but again EWU answered tying the set for the final time at 27-27. But an ensuing Kaul-Gedryn block and a Gedryn ace gave CSUN set one 29-27.
The Matadors dropped three of the first four points set two before battling back to tie the set at 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5. The Eagles however would not surrended the lead and after Northridge knotted things at 8-8, Eastern Washington rolled off three unanswered points to go up 11-8. The Eagles opened up their largest lead at 17-13 before three straight Haina kills and a Kaul kill tied the set at 17-17, the fifth tie of the frame.
But the Matadors could not get over the hump and the Eagles quickly boosted their lead when a 7-1 boosted the lead to as many as six at 24-18. Kaul's kill ended the run as CSUN pulled within 24-19 but EWU cashed on the ensuing sideout and the match was even at one set apiece.
The Matadors dominated the beginning and end of set three, jumping out to an early 8-3 lead. But the Eagles answered with a 9-1 run to take a 12-9 lead forcing CSUN into a timeout. An Eagle hitting error and a Gedryn kill put the Matadors back on top 13-12 before Kaul's attack was stuffed by Talia Fermantez and the score was knotted at 13-13. However from that point on it was all Matadors as Northridge rolled off a 9-1 run to earn set point at 24-14. Eastern then tallied four straight points to pull within 24-18 but Hinger's kill put CSUN up 2-1. Despite hitting a team-low .172 in the set, the Matadors won in large part by holding the Eagles to an .071 hitting clip.
CSUN led by as many as five (11-6) in the fourth set only to watch as the Eagles tallied seven straight points to take the lead for good 13-11. The Matadors tied the set at 13-13 and 14-14 before Eastern Washington pulled away late for the 25-20 win.
Haina opened the decisive fifth set with a kill before the Eagles took a 2-1 lead on kills from Cora Kellerman and Shelby Puckett kill. The Matadors then took a 4-2 lead on back-to-back EWU hitting errors but the Eagles reclaimed the lead 5-4 on another Puckett kill. That turned out to be the final lead for EWU as a Hinger-Gedryn block and a Britney Graff kill put the Matadors in front to stay 7-5. After the Eagles tied the score for the final time at 7-7, a kill from Hinger and a pair from Haina propelled CSUN on a decisive 7-3 run and a Sam Kaul solo block on match point gave the Matadors the 15-10 win.
Puckett led the Eagles (3-5) with a match-high 19 kills while Kellerman chipped in 17.
Cal State Northridge continues the UNLV Invitational Saturday as the Matadors take on Southern Utah at 10 a.m. and the host Rebels at 7 p.m.
- GO MATADORS -