The crowd was small and not very boisterous, but the banners and balloons hanging throughout the Cal State Northridge gym indicated a party was in the offing.
The Northridge women's volleyball team celebrated its victory over Cal State Sacramento in the championship match of the Division II Western regional playoffs with 253 fans in the CSUN gym Sunday.
The Lady Matadors hope to stage their next victory party in Omaha, Neb., site of the Final Four this weekend.
But before Northridge can celebrate its second national championship in five years, it must win two matches that could be as tough as any the Lady Matadors have played this season.
"It should be an outstanding final," CSUN Coach Walt Ker said. "Central-Missouri, Nebraska and CSUN have shown they're the best three teams in the country just by beating everybody else."
Top-ranked Northridge (33-7) defeated Sacramento (33-12) last weekend for the fourth time this season en route to its seventh consecutive regional title.
After trailing briefly in the first game, Northridge controlled the match and prevented Sacramento from earning a berth in the Final Four for the third consecutive year.
"To win, you almost have to play your best match and hope they have an off day," Sacramento Coach Debby Colberg said after Sunday's match. "And it's very unlikely that they will be down in such an important match."
The Lady Matadors were led by senior setter Angela Brinton, the most valuable player in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. Brinton, a three-time All-Pacific League selection at Glendale High, was selected to the all-regional team along with teammates Sue Darcey and Kathleen Dixon.
Sacramento's Mabel Lau and Chris Seifert, both junior setters, and UC Riverside senior Melanie Jones rounded out the all-regional team.
Ker said Northridge's sweep of Sacramento and Riverside in the regional playoffs was a good tuneup for the Final Four.
"We've been fortunate through the years that the regionals have helped prepare us for nationals," Ker said.
Ker credited CSUN's depth for its victory in the regional.
"To have a team as good as we are, you have to have a lot of people playing well," Ker said. "Our greatest strength is the depth we have from player No. 1 to player No. 12."
Northridge has added incentive to win a national title this weekend after finishing runner-up in four of the past five years, including the past three. Northridge last won the national championship in 1983.
Ker has 10 returning players, including four starters, from last year's team that lost to Riverside in the championship match.
"For those 10 girls, there's a real sense of desire and determination," Ker said.
Northridge can qualify for its sixth consecutive berth in the championship match by defeating Ferris State on Friday. Ferris (40-7), ranked sixth in the nation, defeated North Dakota State to win the Great Lakes region.
North Dakota State was the only Division II opponent to beat Northridge this season.