It has been nearly six years, but Cal State Northridge men's volleyball Coach Jeff Campbell still feels the pain.
Northridge eliminated volleyball and three other sports in the spring of 1997 because of equity requirements and budget concerns. Even though the sports were reinstated the following fall, the damage was done.
"It was crushing," said Campbell, who was then an assistant. "To see a program grow as we did, getting to the NCAA championship game in 1993, and then have it taken away hurt a lot."
But the Matadors have worked their way back. They are 6-2, their best start since 1993 when they lost to UCLA in the national championship match. Northridge, which plays host to Stanford and Pacific this weekend, already has victories over USC and Long Beach State.
Despite losing All-America opposite hitter Eckhard Walter to graduation, the Matadors are more versatile this year.
Senior Joe Nargi is the leading hitter, but sophomore Nils Nielsen and juniors Billy Allen and Scott Arneson also are threats.
First-year Coach John Speraw has the UC Irvine men's volleyball team in an unfamiliar position: at the top of the national rankings for the first time.
Irvine is 10-0 and will play the biggest matches in school history tonight at 7 and Saturday evening at 5, when they host No. 2 Hawaii, the defending NCAA champion.
"I keep cautioning the guys that it's early in the season," Speraw said. "It's not so important that we're No. 1 now but that we're No. 1 at the end of the season."
The students are joining in the excitement. Irvine has moved tonight's match to the 5,000-seat Bren Center in anticipation of a large crowd and because the Anteaters have been filling Crawford Hall, its usual small home.
Hawaii suffered its first loss last weekend, to Stanford, and fell from the top spot in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Assn. poll. Speraw said that shouldn't be a signal that the Warriors are any less formidable.
"They had some injuries to deal with which hurt them against Stanford," he said. "If they're healthy, they are amazing."
Senior outside hitter Jimmy Pelzel and senior setter David Kniffin have been the big performers for the Anteaters. Pelzel has led the team in kills in seven of the 10 matches.
UCLA is atop the preseason national softball rankings ahead of rival Arizona and NCAA champion California. Cal State Fullerton is ranked 10th.... Monica Tokoro, a sophomore guard on the Cal State Los Angeles women's basketball team, ranks third in Division II in scoring with an average of 23.4 points per game. She had a school-record 43 points last week against Cal State Stanislaus.... Concordia's 19-1 men's basketball team is ranked third in the latest NAIA poll. Azusa Pacific (16-3) is ranked eighth and Westmont (13-5) is 16th.