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Northridge Women Begin Their Climb at the Top : Volleyball: Young Matadors open season against No. 1-ranked Stanford in an inaugural tournament at Nebraska.


NORTHRIDGE — In theory, it's a reward for winning last year's National Invitational Volleyball Championship. But the Cal State Northridge women's team might feel as though it's being punished--not rewarded--Friday when the Matadors open the season against No. 1-ranked and defending NCAA champion Stanford in the inaugural National Assn. of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators Volleyball Classic at the University of Nebraska.

Northridge (23-8 last year) qualified for the tournament by winning the NIVC title, but with one returning starter--sophomore Rene Goth--the unranked Matadors could get pounded by veteran teams such as Stanford (32-1), No. 2 Nebraska (31-1) and No. 6 Penn State (31-4).

The Stanford-Northridge winner will play the Nebraska-Penn State victor for the tournament title Saturday night. The first-round losers will meet in a third-place match.

"This tournament looks like a good one," Northridge Coach Lian Kang Lu understated. "Our team is very young, but this is a time to get good experience. Any team in this tournament is the same to us. We just need to learn how to fight and to get the experience of playing good teams."

The Matadors have four other matches against teams ranked among the top 25 in the USA Today-American Volleyball Coaches Assn. preseason poll, but those will be later in the season when Northridge has some experience under its belt.

The Matadors are expected to enter the tournament with a starting lineup that includes junior transfers Heather Hofmans and Lisa Bussard, Goth, and freshmen Carrie Kapfenberg, Holli Hansen and Crystal Newquist.

"Hopefully, in the second half of the season, we'll be winning most matches," Lu said. "But in the beginning, we will be taking a lot of losses."

Northridge sputtered to a 7-6 record during the first part of the 1994 season before winning 16 of its final 18 matches. That team had five senior starters, however, four of whom started in 1993.

There will be one similarity between this year's team and last year's. The Matadors will be led by a quality setter who transferred to the school.

Kathleen Shannon, the most valuable player in the NIVC, made the move from Illinois to Northridge in 1994 and Hofmans transferred from Long Beach State after recording 1,379 assists and 212 digs for the 49ers (27-6) last year.

Trisha Moore, a sophomore transfer from San Jose State, gives Northridge added depth.

"Setter is a very good position for us," Lu said. "Heather has experience and is very skilled and Trisha is a good backup."

Lack of an effective offensive attack is Lu's biggest concern, but the second-year coach realizes it will take time for outside hitters Hansen (6 feet 1), Goth (5-10) and Kapfenberg (6-0), and middle blockers Newquist (6-0), Bussard (6-1) and freshman Summer Billings (6-0) to get in sync.

Hansen and Billings were teammates at Santa Barbara San Marcos High, Goth is from Buena, Kapfenberg was an All-Central Coast Division I selection at San Jose Leland and Newquist is from Bakersfield Highland. Bussard played for Pierce College in 1992 and '93 but sat out last season while taking classes at College of the Canyons.

Erin Balderama, a junior defensive specialist, and Amy Gillis, a much-improved sophomore outside hitter, should give Northridge added depth, but Lu doesn't know if the Matadors can close this season with the rush of a year ago.

"In the beginning, our team was not very good last year," he said. "We played walking volleyball. But we got better as the season went on. After 10 or 15 matches, we started to play better and get aggressive. This year, it will be a little harder to do that."

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