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Matadors Stay Right on Track

Volleyball: Northridge women (6-2), who open Big Sky play tonight against Idaho State, are meeting expectations.

September 18, 1997|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Pretty much on cue, the Cal State Northridge women's volleyball team is living up to Coach Lian Lu's early season expectations.

The Matadors (6-2), who open defense of their Big Sky Conference title with a match at Idaho State (3-8) tonight, are off to the good start Lu predicted before their opener on Aug. 29.

"We have only played one bad match, the USC match," said Lu, in his fourth season at Northridge. "Our team is doing well compared to last year."

It certainly could not have done any worse.

Northridge got off to an 0-8 start last season but then won 20 of 21 matches, claiming the conference championship with a 16-0 record and finishing 22-11.

With the exception of a three-game loss last week to the Trojans, ranked ninth in the nation at the time, the Matadors have pulled through despite injuries to some key players this season.

The Matadors won the DePaul tournament in late August and finished second at the UNLV tournament two weeks ago, losing the championship match to Big Sky rival Eastern Washington in five games.

But even with a two-match losing streak, the Matadors are heading for action in the nine-team conference with Lu's full confidence.

"Most of the Big Sky teams are big and strong, but their transition to defense is weak," Lu said. "Our team in the first round [of conference play] will be OK. In the second round, people know you.

"They will research how to attack our team, so we have to improve in our first eight matches to protect us for the second round."

As expected, junior outside hitter Nancy Ma has been a top producer. Ma, an All-Big Sky pick last season, leads the conference with 4.65 kills per game and is 12 kills shy of tying Franci Bowman for 10th place in the school's career list with 630.

Also at outside hitter, freshman Kristin Sigel is quickly becoming a force on the team. Sigel, who played at Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High and was the Southern Section Division I player of the year in 1996, tops the team with 129 digs and 11 service aces.

Lu is looking forward to the debut tonight of middle blocker Angie Herrera, a 6-foot-1 freshman from Hayward, Calif., who was slated to start at the position going into the season but sprained an ankle just before the opener.

"Our blocking has been a problem," Lu said.

The Matadors, who play their first home match Sunday at 1 p.m. against Big Sky rival Northern Arizona, were picked to finish behind Eastern Washington and Sacramento State in the coaches' preseason poll.

Lu said that's fine by him.

"Everybody has to keep in mind that we have to start from zero," Lu said.

"Last year is over. Everybody has to face this year."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Big Sky Volleyball Breakdown

Eastern Washington

Picked by coaches to win the conference title. Junior middle blocker Kim Exner, who last season set a school record with 4.73 kills per game, leads the Eagles (6-2). Sophomore Tarah Pond, a 5-foot-3 defensive specialist, is the Big Sky's shortest player.

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Idaho State

Freshman middle blocker Amanda Berg leads the Big Sky with 1.50 blocks per game. The Bengals (3-8) this season have just lost 18 of 34 games by four points or fewer.

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Montana

Dana Bennish, a 5-11 senior middle blocker from Monclair Prep, is the Big Sky's leader in block average for a career at 1.69. The Grizzlies (1-9) opened with eight consecutive losses--all on the road.

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Montana State

The Bobcats (8-2) have dropped only eight of 35 games this season. Senior middle blocker Karen Weyler is ninth on the Big Sky career block list with 471. Starting setter Brooke Olsen is the niece of NFL Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen.

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Northern Arizona

No Big Sky team, not even Northridge, has as many players from the Valley region as the Lumberjacks (6-3). They are senior middle blockers Jenny Treglown (Royal) and Susan Brondell (Canyon), and junior outside hitters Cate Weaver (La Canada) and Darcy Fransden (Canyon). Brondell, 6-4, is the tallest player in the conference along with Sacramento State freshman outside hitter Sharon Stutts.

Portland State

The Vikings (5-6) are in the second year of a two-year compliance period after moving up from Division II and are not eligible for the Big Sky or NCAA tournaments. They have lost four in a row, including defeats to nationally ranked UC Santa Barbara, Loyola Marymount and Michigan State.

Sacramento State

The Hornets were 6-3 going into Wednesday night's conference opener against Weber State. Sophomore setter Maureen Rafferty is averaging 12.22 assists, tops in the Big Sky. She has more than 2,000 assists in her career. Outside hitter Angela Lewis, who is averaging 3.56 kills, missed much of last season because of a brain aneurysm.

Weber State

It has been nine seasons since the Wildcats, who took a 6-4 record into Wednesday night, had a winning season in the Bid Sky. Coach Al Givens, in his fifth season at Weber State, posted the 200th victory of his 13-year career on Saturday against Purdue.

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* BIG SKY

A breakdown of the other teams in the conference. C12

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