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Matadors Cut to the Quick in Win Over USC : College volleyball: Hewitt's deft hitting helps lift Cal State Northridge to four-game victory in first round of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.


Sometimes genius is unveiled accidentally.

For the record, no one told Matt Unger, Cal State Northridge's senior setter, to cross everyone up by looking for the normally overlooked Craig Hewitt.

"He set (Hewitt) early, which is unusual," Northridge Coach John Price said. "But since it was working, I came up with a brilliant coaching strategy. I said, 'Hey, whatever works, let's keep doing it.' "

Unger did, and as a result, Northridge defeated USC, 15-10, 13-15, 15-6, 15-5, in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball tournament Wednesday at UC Irvine.

Fourth-ranked Northridge (20-9) will meet third-ranked Pepperdine (18-5) on Friday at 4 p.m. in the tournament semifinals.

Hewitt, a junior from Chatsworth High, was almost unstoppable. His quick-hit attacks cut through the heart of the Trojan defense 25 of 29 attempts (86.2%).

Afterward, he could not remember a USC defender stuffing him. "I think I might have hit wide a couple of times, but I don't think I was blocked," he said.

Coley Kyman, Northridge's other man in the middle, was almost equally potent on the attack. Kyman finished with a 72.1 hitting percentage and a team-high 33 kills, many of them coming on quick hits similar to those of Hewitt's.

"We were up high and early and Matt was setting the ball real well," Kyman said. "When we get the quick (hit) going like that, it opens up things for everyone else."

Ken Lynch and Axel Hager, who spearheaded Northridge's attack from the outside, finished with 31 and 18 kills, respectively. The Matadors hit 46.9% in one of their best offensive displays of the season.

Price credited crisp passing by Hager and sophomore Peter Piexoto for Northridge's efficiency. "When our passing is that good, no team is going to stop us," he said.

The Matadors' balanced attack was in contrast to that of fifth-ranked USC (12-10). Jason Mulholland, the Trojans' star outside hitter, had 55 kills, tying an NCAA single-match record. From the other side, Chris Underwood had 40 kills.

But as hard as USC's bookends hammered away at the Matadors, they found it tough scoring.

"We outlasted them," Unger said. "We kept siding out and we frustrated them to death. They couldn't score on us. It took the air out of them."

In doing so, Northridge defied tradition. USC came into the match having won 26 of 27 matches against the Matadors, including two this season.

History, Kyman said, is just that.

"What happened before was the least of our concerns," he said. "It wouldn't have mattered if they'd won a hundred in a row against us. All that matters today is what happened today."

USC had won each of this season's matches in four games, a fact that weighed only slightly on Hewitt's mind. "I knew we could beat them," he said. "When we played them before, it was always our own errors that beat us."

Mistakes were few and far between against the Trojans this time, but a momentary lapse did cost the Matadors a three-game sweep. Northridge led in the second game, 13-10, before falling.

Even so, Price said the Matadors deserve credit for saving their best match of the season for the playoffs.

"We were steady, we kept our poise and we stayed tuned in," he said. "When we do all those things, we can play with anybody."


Northridge split its series against Pepperdine this season, winning in five games at home and losing in four at Pepperdine. . . . Since 1990, the freshman season of Coley Kyman and Ken Lynch, the Matadors are 7-2 against the Waves. Overall, Pepperdine has an 18-8 advantage in the series. . . . John Ross, a senior from Chatsworth High, had 14 kills and an attacking percentage of 42.3 for San Diego State in the Aztecs' loss to Pepperdine. Ross, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, also had a team-high six blocks--two of them solo.

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