Matadors Look to Snap Skid at No. 6 USC and No. 1 Pepperdine This Week

Feb. 23, 2010

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MATADOR VOLLEYBALL THIS WEEK

MATCH 16: No. 5 Northridge @ No. 6 USC • Wednesday, Feb. 24 • 7 p.m. • Galen Center

LIVE STATS: usctrojans.com (GAMETRACKER)

MATCH 17: No. 5 Northridge @ No. 1 Pepperdine • Friday, Feb. 26 • 7 p.m. • Firestone Fieldhouse

LIVE STATS: pepperdinesports.com

FOR STARTERS Fifth-ranked Cal State Northridge (11-4, 8-4 MPSF) looks to put an end to a two-match losing streak this week as the Matadors wrap up their season-long road trip with matches at No. 6 USC (8-5, 6-4 MPSF) and No. 1 Pepperdine (7-4, 7-3 MPSF). Northridge, 1-2 on its current five-match road trip, travels to USC's Galen Center on Wednesday and Pepperdine's Firestone Fieldhouse on Friday. Both matches begin at 7 p.m. After winning their first match of the road trip (3-0 at UCSD on Feb. 12), the Matadors dropped a four-set decision at No. 11 UC Irvine last Wednesday before being stunned in five sets at sixth-ranked UCLA on Friday.

SERIES HISTORIES Wednesday's match between the Matadors and USC will be the 62nd meeting all-time between the two schools. The Trojans hold a 36-25 advantage in the series but Northridge has won a staggering 15 straight matches over the Trojans. The Matadors have not lost to USC since the 2004 season and won this season's first meeting 3-2 in Northridge. Friday's match against Pepperdine is the 68th meeting between the Matadors and Waves with Pepperdine holding a commanding 49-18 lead in the series, including a 3-1 win in Northridge on Feb. 5.

TO RECAP Cal State Northridge was looking for its first season sweep over UC Irvine in five years but the 11th-ranked Anteaters turned back the top-ranked Matadors winning 30-23, 16-30, 30-21, 30-25 Wednesday. Northridge had its mini two-match win streak snapped despite a match-high 17 kills from senior Theo Edwards. Edwards (.231) led a quartet of Matador hitter in double figures as junior Tanner Nua added 15 (.136), Jacek Ratajczak had 13 (.765) and Kevin McKniff chipped in 11 (.231). Nua also added a career-high 12 digs for his second double-double of the season while Ratajczak's 13 kills came in 17 swings without an error. The Matadors had 63 kills to UCI's 57 but were out-hit by a slim margin of .279 to .270. The Anteaters also had eight aces to just two for Northridge and the Matadors were out-blocked 12.0 to 5.0. Northridge also looked to exact some revenge on UCLA on Friday night but the Bruins stormed back from two sets down to stun the Matadors in five sets (27-30, 28-30, 30-28, 30-14, 15-12). The Matadors dropped their season-high second straight on Friday despite a team-high 14 kills (.122) from Edwards while McKniff had an incredible match with 13 kills and no errors in 14 swings to hit a career-high .929. Ratajczak also reached double figures in kills with 11 (.192). Ali'i Keohohou had a season-high 16 kills and setter Matt Stork narrowly missed another double-double with 52 assists and nine digs to go with four blocks.

THREE-WEEK RUN AT NUMBER ONE ENDS AS MATADORS SLIP TO FIFTH  With road losses at No. 11 UC Irvine and No. 6 UCLA last week, Cal State Northridge lost its grasp on the top spot in the AVCA Coaches Top-15 Poll. After three straight weeks at number one, Northridge earned 186 total points and one first-place vote which was good for a number five ranking. Pepperdine (7-4), the Matadors' Friday opponent, took over as the top-ranked team in the country after earning 14 of 16 first-place votes and 232 total points. Stanford (8-4) earned 211 points to remain second this week followed by UCLA (9-6, 202 pts.), BYU (9-4, 191) and Northridge. USC (8-5, 165) slipped from third to sixth followed by Penn State (10-2, 135), Hawai'i (8-5, 112), Long Beach State (6-6, 109) and UC Santa Barbara (6-7, 109) which tied for ninth. The final five spots in this week's poll go to UC Irvine (8-8, 88), Loyola-Chicago (9-0, 69), Ohio State (9-5, 46), UC San Diego (4-11, 32) and Lewis (9-2, 29). Northridge has now been ranked in the AVCA Top-15 for 141 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.

NORTHRIDGE GETS FIRST CRACK AT NUMBER ONE After three weeks as the country's top-ranked team, the fifth-ranked Matadors will get their first crack at knocking off a number one team this Friday at Pepperdine. Northridge, which was 3-3 during its three-week run as the number one team, is 3-18 (.143) against teams ranked atop the AVCA Top-15 poll since the 2000 season. Ironically, the last time the Matadors met a top-ranked squad was at Pepperdine almost exactly one year ago when Northridge pulled off a rare win over a number one, but maybe an even rarer win at Firestone Fieldhouse. The Matadors' other two wins over a number one team came during the 2003 season when Northridge upset No. 1 UC Irvine in The Matadome before upsetting newly-named No. 1 Hawai'i the following week.

BAKER, STAKER ASSUME ROLES IN REGULAR ROTATION A pair of freshmen have joined the regular rotation of late. True freshman Drew Staker did not play in the first match of the season against UC Santa Barbara but has made an appearance in all 14 matches since primarily as a blocker. Staker had a season-high four kills in six swings at Stanford on Jan. 29 and has 15 blocks on the season. Baker, a redshirt freshman, did not appear in six of the first eight matches of the season but has played in the last seven primarily as a serving specialist. He notched his first service ace against Pepperdine on Feb. 5 and put down a season-high two kills off the bench in the five-set loss at UCLA last week.

TWO LOSSES DROP MATADORS IN MPSF STANDINGS After sitting atop the MPSF standings for five of the first six weeks of the season, two conference losses last week dropped the Matadors into a tie for third with UCLA at 8-4. Pepperdine and BYU now share the conference lead at 7-3 while Stanford is a half-game behind Northridge and UCLA at 7-4. Following Friday's match in Malibu, the Matadors will play five of their final eight MPSF matches at home where Northridge has won four of six this season.

MCKNIFF SETS HITTING MARK, KEOHOHOU POSTS SEASON-HIGH IN LOSS In the category of finding a silver lining, senior libero Ali'i Keohohou and senior middle blocker Kevin McKniff each had season-high's during the Matadors' loss at UCLA last week. Keohohou had a season-high 16 digs at UCLA and also recorded his first kill of the season when his overpass landed safely on UCLA's side. His 16 digs is five off the career-high 21 he set against Stanford as a junior last season. McKniff also had a stellar night against the Bruins as he hit a Northridge single-match record .929 with 13 kills in 14 attacks without an error. McKniff's percentage surpasses the previous high of .923 (12-0-13) that James Lischer hit at USC in 2005.

NORTHRIDGE NOTES The pair of losses last week evens the Matadors record in the month of February to 3-3. The comes on the heels of a near-perfect month of January where Northridge was 8-1 ... The five-set loss at UCLA was the Matadors' first loss of the season in three matches that have gone the distance. It was also Northridge's first loss when the Matadors won the opening set and also the first loss when Northridge has more digs ... The Matadors were a perfect 5-0 on the road prior to losing at UC Irvine and UCLA ... For the season, Northridge has a sizable 869-782 edge in team kills, .287-.248 edge in hitting percentage and an 80-60 edge in team aces. The one are of concern is the Matadors are being out-blocked by a margin of 160.0-149.0.

SCOUTING USC (8-5, 6-4 MPSF) Wednesday's tilt with the Matadors is the only match for the sixth-ranked Trojans this week. After opening the season 6-1, USC has dropped four of their last six matches including a 3-2 win over Pacific and a 3-1 loss to No. 2 Stanford last week. Junior OPP Murphy Troy leads the Trojans and is ninth in the MPSF in kills (4.17) and points (4.85). Sophomore OH Tony Ciarelli adds 3.72 kpg and 1.89 dpg. The Trojans are hitting .263 as a team which currently ranks 11th in the conference. Among Northridge's 15 straight wins over the Trojans are six wins at USC.

PEPPERDINE (7-4, 7-3 MPSF) After dropping four of its first five matches to open the season, the top-ranked Waves bring a six-match winning streak into this weeks matches against Grand Canyon and the fifth-ranked Matadors. Last week Pepperdine swept both Pacific and No. Stanford at home. Freshman OH Maurice Torres leads the Waves in kills averaging 4.49 per game which ranks sixth in the MPSF. Junior OH Cory Riecks, the MPSF Co-Player of the Week, adds 4.00 kpg for the Waves who are hitting .330 as a team. The Matadors have historically struggled at Firestone Fieldhouse losing 26 of 32 matches.

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