Matadors Open 2011 Season With Three Matches in Salt Lake City

Cal State Northridge (0-0, 0-0 Big West) opens up its 37th season of women's volleyball this weekend as the Matadors travel to Salt Lake City to compete in the Utah Classic at Crimson Court. CSUN opens up the tournament Friday against Northwestern and then takes on the host Utes and Weber State on Saturday. The Matadors finished 13-19 overall and 5-11 in the Big West in 2010 and look to get out of the gate quickly in what may be their toughest tournament of the 2011 season. Northridge's first two opponents this weekend (Northwestern and Utah) won a combined 37 matches last season. Weber State is a former Big Sky Conference foe for the Matadors who finished 4-27 a season ago.

The roller-coaster season that was Cal State Northridge in 2010 concluded with a hard-fought 3-1 loss to conference champion Cal State Fullerton as the Matadors finished with an overall record of 13-19 and a Big West record of 5-11. With 13 wins, Northridge posted a five-win improvement from 2009 and claimed the most wins for a Matador team since the 2007 season.

"Overall, our team made some pretty significant improvements," said head coach Jeff Stork. "Most notably, we passed extremely well last season and had several players pass really well which kept us in-system quite a bit. If I look at seasons past, I think statistically this team is higher than what we've had in the last couple of years."

Freshman Natalie Allen (Murietta, Calif.) and senior Lynda Morales (Fallbrook, Calif.) were both named to the 2010 All-Big West honorable mention team and Allen was also chosen to the seven-player All-Freshman Team. It marked the seventh consecutive season that a first year Matador was named as one of the conference's top freshman players. As a team, the Matadors finished seventh in the always-tough Big West Conference with a 5-11 league mark. Northridge finished as high as third in the conference in both blocks and aces per game with the Matadors serving a conference-best 151 aces. Allen was one of several newcomers who were forced to step when sophomore Britney Graff was lost for the season and senior Brittany Williams was still recovering from an injury suffered at the end of 2009. Allen wound up the season with a team-high 363 kills and was the first Matador hitter since Darla Donaldson in 2006 to average over 3.00 kills per set. She also finished third on the team in aces with 23 (0.19 saps) and digs with 254 (2.12 dps). Allen also added 67 blocks which was third-best on the squad.

The Matadors will meet Northwestern for the first time in school history on Friday. The Wildcats finished 20-13 last season reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern graduated two AVCA All-Americans but returns their remaining five starters ... Tournament hosts Utah finished 17-14 (11-5 in the Mountain West) a season ago and are embarking on their first season in the newly-formed Pac-12. The Utes return four starters and will take on the Matadors for the first time in 20 years ... CSUN will also renew its rivalry with Weber State, whom the Matadors competed with in the Big Sky for five seasons. The two teams have not met since the 2000 season when the Matadors capped a run of eight wins in 10 matches. Weber State returns three starters from last season's 4-27 squad and were picked ninth in the Big Sky.

Since 1978, Cal State Northridge is 19-14 (.576) all-time in season openers. The Matadors, who fell to San Diego State (3-0) in their season opener in 2010, are 4-5 (.444) in nine previous season openers under head coach Jeff Stork. Friday's opener against Northwestern in Utah marks the sixth time in Stork's nine years that Northridge has played its season opener on the road. The last time the Matadors opened at home was 2005 when Northridge fell to Arizona State in five sets. The last time CSUN won its season was 2007 when the Matadors topped Fresno State (3-2) at Washington's Husky Classic.

In its 37th season of women's volleyball at Cal State Northridge, the Matadors are within three wins of reaching 700 wins in program history. 697 wins in 36 years averages out to just over 19 wins per season which was largely achieved during the programs heyday as a Division II school (1975-1989). Under the direction of Walt Ker, the Matadors posted 401 wins from 1979-1992, an average of nearly 29 wins per season. Since moving up to the Division I level in 1990, Northridge has 294 wins, including 29 in Ker's first Division I season (1990).

Following a 13-19 season in 2010, Northridge was picked to finish eighth by the conference's coaches in the Big West Preseason Poll. The Matadors picked up 20 points to finish ahead of UC Riverside who garnered 11 points. Long Beach State was picked to reclaim the conference championship crown after Cal State Fullerton captured the title in 2010. The 49ers tallied seven first-place votes and 78 points to finish ahead of Cal Poly who garnered a pair of first-place votes and 72 points overall. UC Santa Barbara (53 pts.) was tabbed third followed by Fullerton (52), Pacific (51), UC Davis (38), UC Irvine (30), the Matadors and Highlanders.

Five opponents on Northridge's 2011 schedule received votes in the AVCA preseason top-25 poll. USC was the highest ranked team on the slate as the Trojans received 1424 points and are ranked second in the preseason top-25. UCLA received 903 points and is ranked 11th followed by Long Beach State who received 234 points and are ranked 22nd. Cal Poly received eight points are listed among the schools "receiving votes" as are Northwestern which received four points.

In 2010, Natalie Allen (Murrieta, CA) became the first Matador freshman to lead her team in kills since Brittany Williams accomplished the feat with 276 kills in 2007. Allen's final total of 363 kills (3.03 kps) is the most by a Northridge freshman since Laura Walter (Szymanski) put down 404 kills as a freshman in 1998. Allen's total comes in the rally scoring era while Walter's freshman season of 1998 was during the regular sideout scoring format. By averaging 3.03 kills per set, Allen became the first Matador hitter in five seasons to average over three kills per set. Darla Donaldson was the last Matador to average three kills per set when she posted a 3.14 kills average in 2006.

Of the 15 players on the 2011 roster, 10 players are in their first or second season. Six sophomores and four freshmen highlight this season's roster which also has five upperclassmen in juniors (Monica McFarland, Cindy Ortiz) and seniors (Sam Orlandini, Puneet Pataria, Una Siljegovic).

Matador head coach Jeff Stork shares his thoughts each week on the team, this week's opponents and other topics.

On the Outside Hitters:
"First of all, like last year, I think it's going to be a competitive position. That was probably our most competitive position last year. The fact that we get Britney Graff back is going to help as will the seasoning of Mahina Haina. Una Siljegovic brings seasoning and maturity to the position and Monica McFarland is a very disciplined and error-free type of player. I think the outside position will provide us some options and my hope is that someone will take the horse by the reins this season."

On the Middle Blockers and Opposites:
"Nicole Jarvis played a lot for us last year and is a very good offensive player while Puneet Pataria has played both the middle blocker and outside hitter position. She played in the middle last year and is also a little more offensive-minded and is a good team player. Obviously losing Lynda Morales hurts from a blocking standpoint but Casey Hinger and Sam Kaul are both very quick players and are exceptional laterally. Both are above average blockers so we like what's happening in the middle. Natalie Allen is an exceptional volleyball player. She sees the game very well and her hand control as an offensive player is exceptional. She was our leader in kills last season and I would expect similar types of things from her this season."

On the setters and defensive players:
"Sam Orlandini and Sydney Gedryn are both very good setters. Sam has an internal drive to her competitiveness and tenacity which is nice to see in a competitor. Her rhythm, location and serving are very good while Sydney is probably the best blocker we have on the team. In many ways, Sydney is a front row setter while Sam is a real good back row setter. Cindy Ortiz is a good player with a very good serve. Her passing has steadied out since her freshman year and is reading the play much better now. Monica and Kelcie Randazzo also see the game very well while Mariah Counts is a savvy volleyball player."


Following the Utah Classic, the Matador continue tournament action at the Sacramento State Invitational (Sept. 2-3). CSUN will take on Marist, Fresno State and the host Hornets in the State Capitol.