Surging Cougars Stuff Matadors

PROVO -- The No. 4 BYU men's volleyball team stepped up its defense in extending its winning streak to six matches, as it swept No. 9 Cal State Northridge (30-28, 30-27, 30-26) for the second night in a row at the Smith Fieldhouse. The Cougars kept their MPSF championship hopes alive and imporved to 17-5, 11-5 MPSF, while the Matadors fall to 12-12, 7-11.

For the match, BYU outblocked CS Northridge 15 to 9 while holding the Matadors to a .188 attack percentatge (42 kills with 23 attack errors on 101 attempts). Conversely the Cougars' attack riddled the Matador defense with 48 kills on 93 attempts (.344).

"I think we're getting to be a better defensive team," said head coach Carl McGown. "We're starting to block balls, and everybody on the team is thinking and feeling that we're getting better."

In the first game, CS Northridge jumped to put BYU in a quick 2-7 hole keyed by two aces from Eckhard Walter. The teams exhanged points until a pivotal triple block by Luka Slabe, Mike Wall and Chris Gorny on Nils Nielsen drew the Cougars to within three at 20-23. A kill by Slabe and a devastating back row kill by Joaquin Acosta pulled the Cougars to within one. The Cougars finally broke through to tie when Wall put down a kill to make it 25-25 and Acosta gave BYU the lead for good as he ended the following rally with a kill. The game ended as a Wall attack was dug, but the ball fell to the court amidst the Matadors' confusion.

"We were down pretty good in the first game, but our defense got us back into it," McGown said. "We held them to a .105 hitting percentage and somehow managed to win it."

Game two was a close affair until All-American Wall broke the game open with two consecutive kills to put BYU up 18-14. After a Joe Nargi kill gave the Matadors the serve, Ozer Ozkaya substituted into the game to serve. Ozkaya promptly delivered an ace and a kill, sandwiching a Carlos Moreno ball handling error, to pull CS Northridge into a tie with BYU at 18-18. The Cougar block proved to be too strong, however, as Slabe and Gorny twice teamed to stuff Walter. Wall, Rafael Paal and Jaime Mayol set up a triple block to stuff J.P. Jandreau to pull the Cougars to game point. BYU won the game on a Nargi hitting error.

Game three was the most impressive blocking game for BYU as it accumulated seven blocks. The Cougars led by as many as five points, but the Matadors fought to tie the game at 17-17. The teams traded points, but CS Northridge was never able to seize the lead, and BYU consequently went on a 4-1 run to close out the game, aided by a sevice error by George Tamer to seal the match.

Wall continued his sizzling weekend play as he compiled 14 kills on 21 swings (.571) with only two attacking errors. In the two wins over CS Northridge, Wall had 31 kills on 46 attempts to hit .544. Acosta had a team-high 15 kills on 27 swings (.370). Paal led the Cougars' defensive effort with eight digs and eight blocks.

The Matadors were led by Walter with a match-high 19 kills (.306) and Jandreau with 10 kills on 18 swings (.389).

The 6-foot-10 opposite side hitting Walter is the most feared player in the Matador line-up, but he didn't play Friday night because of a sprained ankle. Walter played on Saturday, but McGown thinks it took away from other talents on the team.

"The trade-off is that he gets 36 swings and (Stan) Douglas and Nargi, who were really effective last night didn't get as many hits."

The Cougars will close out their 2002 regular season home schedule with a pair of matches against No. 6 UC Santa Barbara on Thursday and Friday at the Smith Fieldhouse. Both matches are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.