When: Thursday, April 3, 7 PM PDT
Where: Matadome, Northridge, CA
Listen: CSUN Audio
Watch: CSUN Streaming Video
Coach Speraw's squad is back in California after a tough four set defeat in Provo by MPSF leader BYU. With just 4 matches left in MPSF play, the ninth-ranked Bruins have little margin for error if they hope to qualify for the conference tournament. The Bruins currently sit in eighth place, a full game ahead of Hawai'i and just a half game out of sixth place. Fortunately for the Bruins, Hawai'i has an incredibly challenging schedule remaining with a pair of games each against the top two teams in the conference (BYU and Pepperdine). Therefore, if UCLA can split its final 4 games, the Bruins should qualify for the tournament as the seventh or eighth seed. And importantly, if UCLA wants to avoid a first round tournament match with BYU, the Bruins will have to win at least three of their final four games. With matches against #2 BYU and #6 Long Beach State still to play, tonight's match with Cal State Northridge (7-13, 8-15) is essentially a must-win situation for the Bruins (12-8, 15-9).
Although Steve O'Dell is back from a foot injury that kept him out for several months, Robart Page is still struggling with an injury, and the Bruins are not the same team without Page in attack. Freshman Mitch Stahl has come on strong in the last third of the season, and at the moment, freshman Jake Reeves is Coach Speraw's first choice for the other starting spot. With O'Dell back, freshman Hagen Smith has moved from setter to libero, and Michael Beals is once again the backup setter. While it's wonderful that the Bruins have so much flexibility in moving players between positions, the extent of the team's injury problems has resulted in a lack of consistency that can only be cured with experience, which is a luxury that's unavailable to Coach Speraw at this point in the season.
In UCLA's previous meeting with CSUN this season, the Bruins had trouble containing Matador junior middle blocker Greg Faulkner. He is the Matador's most efficient attacker, but the majority of CSUN's attack runs through sophomore OH Sam Holt and redshirt freshman OPP Damani Lenore. In the previous match, the Bruins did not serve particularly well, which gave CSUN a platform for building their attack, If UCLA serves better tonight, the Bruins should be able to blunt the Matador attack.
The Bruins have very little time left to develop a cohesive unit and build momentum going into the conference tournament. Tonight's match with Cal State Northridge can be an important first step in a late season surge.
The official preview is here.