When the Cal State Northridge women's volleyball team lost to Portland State in the NCAA Division II final last season, there was a feeling among the players that they had embarrassed themselves.
They were the defending champions, with three All-Americans and a four-year starter among their top six players. They were a veteran team, loaded with confidence. And yet, in the final, they crumbled, losing in straight games.
This season, after they lost again to the Vikings in last Saturday night's final at Portland State, the feeling among the Lady Matadors was more one of resignation, as if they had come to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that perhaps Portland State was a better team.
They had put up a valiant fight, but again they had lost.
At least this time, though, they didn't have to hang their heads.
"We played really well," said Heather Hafner. "They just played better. I don't think we could have played much better."
Does that lessen the disappointment?
"Of course it does," said Hafner, a three-time All-American from Santa Barbara. "I think the team as a whole was a lot more satisfied this year, even though we ended up the same--we lost in the final. We knew that we had played one of our best matches of the year. So, it was a good way to go out."
Portland State, playing the final on its home court for the second straight year, beat the Lady Matadors, 15-9, 15-13, 11-15, 15-8. CSUN Coach Walt Ker called the second game the turning point. Northridge led, 12-9, before Portland State rallied.
"At that point," he said, "I don't think Portland State made another mistake the rest of the game and we needed them to crack just a little because we were playing good volleyball, but we needed them to make a bad pass or to hit a ball out of bounds or something. But they were so consistent. That's really been their trademark and that was the difference."
For the second straight year, the final was played before a raucous, capacity crowd of about 2,500 in Portland State's gymnasium.
Ker said he was "angry" when the NCAA awarded the Final Four to Portland State several months ago, reasoning correctly that the decision was based, in his words, "almost exclusively on money and not on a sense of fairness at all." CSUN was the only other school that bid for the tournament.
His anger had subsided by the time of the final, but now that CSUN is 0 for 2 in Portland, Ker admitted that he was "frustrated" by the NCAA's decision.
"You're talking about two teams that are a little bit better than everybody else and one of them gets an advantage each year," he said. "I definitely don't want to sound like I'm crying over spilled milk, though, because Portland had an outstanding team. It may not have made a difference, but I certainly would have liked to have tried it somewhere else."
Still, Ker said he and his team left Portland Sunday morning with a "much more positive feeling" than they left with last year.
"Again, giving the credit to Portland State," Ker said, "I think if we had played as well as we did Saturday night against anybody else in the country, we probably would have won the national championship."
Women's Athletic Director Judy Brame said Cal State Northridge plans to make a bid for next year's Final Four. . . . Coach Walt Ker will have 11 players back from this year's team, including setter Angela Brinton, who backed up senior All-American Shelli Mosby this season after transferring from Glendale College. . . . Of Brinton, who will be a junior, Ker said: "I think she can step in and run an offense that is capable of winning the national championship." . . . Portland State's All-American trio of Lynda Johnson, Lisa Couch and Theresa Huitinga are all seniors.