With the momentum of a 16-13 season and a third-place Big West finish to build upon, Cal State Northridge opens the 2012 women's volleyball season Aug. 24 at the Wildcat Classic in Tucson, Ariz.
The season-opening tournament at the home of the Pac-12 Wildcats is one of four tournaments the Matadors will take part in before the Big West schedule gets underway Sept. 19 against conference newcomers Hawai'i.
With 10 letterwinners and all seven starters returning, Northridge appears primed to face a schedule which, on paper, appears tougher than 2011.
"We are playing more teams this season that finished ahead of us in the final RPI from 2011," said Jeff Stork who is heading into his 11th season leading the CSUN women. "It's a challenging schedule but one I think the team is looking forward to taking on."
The 2012 season gets underway in late August as the Matadors head to Tucson, Ariz., to take part in the Wildcat Classic (Aug. 24-25). CSUN opens with Utah Valley before taking on host Arizona and Evansville in the four-team field. The Matadors then return to California for their next two tournaments, the first a modified schedule at the Long Beach State Invitational (Aug. 31-Sept. 1). Since the 49ers are a Big West foe, Northridge will only play Wisconsin and James Madison during the tournament.
"We finished last season at 122 in the RPI and we are opening against two teams that are ranked above us from the previous year," said Stork. "I think playing teams from the Pac-12 is always a good idea, Evansville is a solid team and Utah Valley has made strides recently. At Long Beach we get to play two quality teams in Wisconsin and James Madison without having to go on a trip so we're excited about being a part of that tournament."
The Matadors then host Idaho in their home opener on Sept. 3 in the newly renovated Matadome before moving on to the Bay Area to play La Salle, Long Island and San Francisco as part of the USF Asics Coca-Cola Challenge (Sept. 7-8).
"We were hoping to play more home matches this year and the match against Idaho kind of fell into our lap," said Stork. "It's a bit of a strange time to host a match, the Monday after Labor Day at 12:30, but we're happy to host the Vandals. We've played in San Francisco before and not that not that any match is easy, but this is probably the weakest of the four tournaments based on RPI.
Northridge then heads to Houston, Texas for what Stork says is probably the toughest tournament his Matadors will play in. CSUN will face Rice, Texas Tech and Houston Baptist during the Rice Invitational on Sept. 14-15.
"Every team in the Rice Tournament is ranked ahead of us which will provide the challenges that we like heading into Big West play," said Stork. "I know they like volleyball in Texas so we're happy to be going there to play Rice, Texas Tech and Houston Baptist. We also like playing teams from strong conferences which helps boost our RPI. We believe that based on last year's results and what happened this past spring, we'll be very successful in the tournaments that we've entered."
Perennial powerhouse Hawai'i then heads to The Matadome as Big West Conference play opens Sept. 19. The match will mark the first Big West match for the Rainbow Wahine since leaving the conference following the 1995 season.
"Hawai'i was ranked as high as number three last year so it's going to be a difficult match but the girls understand the challenge that's in front of them," said Stork. "Having Hawai'i in the Big West only strengthens our conference RPI and despite a couple of coaching changes within the conference I think top to bottom we're probably the second strongest conference on the West Coast behind the Pac-12."
The always challenging conference slate includes road matches at Cal State Fullerton (Sept. 21), UC Riverside (Sept. 22), UC Santa Barbara (Oct. 5), Cal Poly (Oct. 6), Hawai'i (Oct. 12), UC Irvine (Oct. 26), Long Beach State (Oct. 27), UC Davis (Nov. 16) and Pacific (Nov. 17).
In addition to Idaho and Hawai'i, the Matadors' home schedule also includes Long Beach State (Sept. 27), UC Irvine (Sept. 29), Pacific (Oct. 18), UC Davis (Oct. 20), Cal Poly (Nov. 1), UCSB (Nov. 3), Loyola Marymount (Nov. 10), UC Riverside (Nov. 21) and Cal State Fullerton (Nov. 24).
"The coaching staff and the players saw what happened last year with us finishing third, saw what happened in the spring (beating UCLA and Arizona) and we're very excited about getting started in a tougher Big West Conference," said Stork. The fact that The Matadome has seen significant upgrades, the new floor and video boards, we hope to have even more of a home court advantage."
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