If it's a magnetic attraction that brings Cal State Northridge to the Division II Final Four in women's volleyball every year, then why are the Lady Matadors repelled so often?
For six consecutive seasons Northridge has reached the national semifinals. The past three seasons the team has finished second.
Why, is the question that comes to mind. Why always second?
The disappointment was enhanced last season because UC Riverside, the team CSUN defeated for its fourth straight California Collegiate Athletic Assn. championship, beat the Lady Matadors in the NCAA title game.
It was obvious which title CSUN wanted more.
"It was extremely disappointing," said Walt Ker, Northridge's coach. "My biggest disappointment was for the seniors. But I still look back on last year as a tremendous experience--with that one exception."
There are 10 players on this season's team who know the frustration of being second best. "The loss should make the girls hungrier," Ker said. "We should be real hungry after three of them."
Sue Darcey, an honorable mention All-American as a sophomore, said flatly that last season's finish is history. "The team just didn't play up to its potential, but it's hard to say what the cause was," she said.
"The girls have just accepted the fact that they outplayed us," said Karen Langson, a defensive specialist. "We thought for sure that we were going to win, but it just didn't happen for us. It was still a great season."
Ker is more interested in improving this season's team than explaining 1986. "Most of the girls aren't focused on the loss, they're focusing on what we have to do after last year," he said.
"The most common question is, 'What are we going to do to finish better than second next year?' I don't focus on the outcome. I focus on the process."
Ker has incorporated visualization training to help the Lady Matadors. CSUN professor Ann Stutts works with the team twice a week on breathing techniques, concentration and relaxation.
When a national championship is at stake, Ker doesn't want to overlook any aspect of his players' development.
"Mental habits are no different than physical habits," he said. "We are teaching the athletes better mental skills."
Northridge is led by All-American setter Angela Brinton, a senior. Other returnees include Darcey, Anna Garcia, a second-team All-CCAA selection, and Franci Bowman. Kathleen Dixon and Alissa Evans are the other starters for tonight's season-opener against USC at the CSUN gym.
"We've got a lot of young, raw talent that needs to be improved," Brinton said. "They bring a new life to the team and help make us see what we have to work on."