Bright Spots for Matadors in Four-Set Loss to No. 7 UC Irvine

NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - Starting three freshmen against an experienced UC Irvine squad, 15th-ranked Cal State Northridge played well at times but the visiting Anteaters came away with a 25-23, 25-17, 20-25, 25-17 Friday at The Matadome.

"We started three freshmen and two sophomores against a good team, what I liked about tonight was our attitude and effort were really great," said Matador head coach Jeff Campbell. "We simply made mistakes that inexperienced players make."

Sophomore outside hitter Sam Holt has made great strides lately, connecting for 13 kills (.500) in CSUN's 3-0 win over UC San Diego before putting down a team-high 16 kills (.275) to go with three digs, three blocks and one ace against UCI.

Junior Greg Faulkner added 10 kills (.529) and four blocks (two solo) while redshirt freshman Damani Lenore chipped in six kills but hit .000 on 20 attacks. No other Matador hitter had more than three kills while libero Bradley Sakaida had a team-high 10 digs. 

"Sam probably played one of his best matches of the year, he is going to be really good for us," added Campbell. "But we've got to find a way to get more production out of our right side attacking."

CSUN, which hit .233 for the match, was right there in an opening set that could have gone either way. The Matadors led by four at 11-7 following a UCI attack error but an ensuing 4-0 Anteater run quickly tied the score. Kills by Lenore and Holt followed by a CSUN triple block boosted the lead back to three at 14-11. But back came Irvine as the Anteaters outscored the Matadors 6-2 over the next eight points to take their second lead, 17-16.

The two teams traded sideouts until 23-23 when Holt's serve found the net and Andrew Freiha's attack was stuffed by a pair of UCI blockers on set point. Both teams hit well in the opening frame (.400 for UCI, .360 for CSUN) but that would change in set two for the Matadors.

CSUN, which hit .000, fell behind quickly 8-2 and never recovered in dropping set two 25-17. The third set was a different story as the Matadors out-hit the Anteaters .364-.292 and pulled away late to win 25-20. UCI then hit a blistering .536 to win the final set going away 25-17.

"If we would have won the first set, I think the dynamics of the match would have changed," said Campbell. "Having lost game one I think it set us back a little bit but I think we did some really nice things tonight. To go four with a team like Irvine is good but we want to win these matches. We're looking forward to bouncing back against Pacific next Friday."

Zack La Cavera led the Anteaters with a match-high 18 kills (.325) while Jeremy Dejno added 14 kills (.346) and nine digs. UC Irvine wound up hitting .379 as a team.

Cal State Northridge wraps up its four-match homestand next week as the Matadors host Pacific and Stanford next Friday and Saturday.