It might be early in the season but John Price, coach of the Cal State Northridge volleyball team, has not even remotely tried to downplay the significance of the Matadors' Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. match against UCLA tonight at Pauley Pavilion.
"It's giant. Gigantic. Whatever bigger than gigantic is. Huge," Price said.
It also could be historic.
Northridge has not defeated UCLA in 18 regular-season and postseason matches dating to 1982. And it's not as if the Matadors haven't had their chances.
Just last season, Northridge was ahead, 11-8, and needed only to trade service under the fifth-game, quick-score format to win the deciding game. CSUN lost, 15-11.
Still, this season brings another opportunity and Northridge appears to have enough weapons to bring the streak to an end.
In fact, if the latest national rankings are to be believed, third-ranked CSUN (5-1) should be considered the favorite against fourth-ranked UCLA (1-1).
"I think if we're ever going to beat those guys, this is definitely the year," Price said. "We're playing pretty well right now and I think we're a little stronger than they are in spots."
Northridge is probably strongest in the middle, where Raphael Tulino and Coley Kyman provide solid blocking and hitting power.
"They have some good players in the middle too," Price said, "but the way Neil (Coffman) has been playing, he adds the balance we need. If we didn't have Neil on the outside, they could really load up and concentrate on the middle."
Coffman, a senior outside hitter, leads Northridge with 135 kills and is hitting at a 46.3% clip. He had a team-high 47 kills as the Matadors swept ninth-ranked Hawaii in a pair of matches last week in Honolulu.
Northridge is 3-1 in conference matches and is a half-game ahead of UCLA (1-0) in the WIVA DeGroot Division.
However, Price is well aware of how the Matadors are perceived when they match up against one of the nation's perennial volleyball powers.
"They're still the team to beat," Price said of UCLA. "Until we (beat them), they still have to be considered the favorite. We're good enough to win, but we still have to get over the hump and actually do it."
Northridge and UCLA already have met this season. The Matadors defeated the Bruins, 15-7, 15-8, in the Santa Barbara tournament three weeks ago, but two-game tournament matches are not reflected in a team's record.
CSUN defeated UCLA in the same tournament last season only to lose its three regular-season matches against the Bruins.