Sept. 24, 2012
Long Beach, Calif. -
Long Beach State faces its toughest road test of the Big West season this weekend, traveling to Cal State Northridge on Thursday night before heading to No. 8 Hawaii for a Saturday night contest. Prior to the season, the Rainbow Wahine were picked to finish first in the Big West, and the Matadors third with LBSU second, lending credence to the argument that this weekend will heavily shape the race for the conference title. Both matches will be covered via live audio at www.longbeachstate.com.
Big West Beginnings
The 49ers got out to a fast start in the first weekend of the Big West season, grabbing a pair of wins at the Walter Pyramid to start out conference play. First, the 49ers hit .345 with 65 digs in a four-set win over Cal Poly, and then defeated UC Santa Barbara 25-19, 25-13, 25-16, improving to 2-0 in the Big West and moving over .500 for the first time in 2012.
After being injured in the very first match of the season, sophomore middle blocker Alma Serna's return to the lineup has corresponded with an uptick in the 49ers' fortunes. The Big West Player of the Week last weekend, Serna had a career-high 16 kills against Cal Poly, and then hit .611 with no errors and 11 kills against UCSB to help the 49ers to a fast start. 5-1 with Serna in the lineup, the 49ers were outblocked in all but one match without Serna, and hit under .200 in every match except against Seattle and James Madison in her absence. Since Serna's return, however, the 49ers blocking has improved to 1.82 blocks per set to 2.61, and the team's hitting percentage has risen from .189 to .267 in the same span.
Scouting Cal State Northridge
Coming off of a breakthrough 2011 campaign, the Matadors have started off 2012 as one of the Big West's top teams. Despite a few surprising losses, the Matadors posted a 9-3 record in the non-conference schedule, including a 3-0 week with three sweeps in a tournament at Rice in Houston. Pushing the Rainbow Wahine to five sets on Wednesday, CSUN rebounded from that loss to defeat both Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside on the road to start Big West play. The Matadors have a balanced attack with four players averaging over two kills per set, including defending Big West Freshman of the Year Casey Hinger, and are guided by setter Sydney Gedryn.
Long Beach State vs. the Matadors
Long Beach State leads the all-time series with Cal State Northridge 47-9, and have won two straight after winning both matches against the Matadors last season, including a four-set win in the Matadome behind a double-double from Janisa Johnson, who had 13 kills and 12 digs. That ended a bad run on the road for the 49ers however, who had previously lost their last three matches on the road at Cal State Northridge.
Hawaii enters the week ranked No. 8 in the nation, with their only losses on the season coming in an upset by California and to No. 4 UCLA, while their biggest win came against No. 7 Stanford. However, in the team's first trip off the island, the Rainbow Wahine went to five sets against both Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton, but ended up winning each match. Junior outside hitter Emily Hartong both Hawaii and the Big West in kills per set with a 4.13 average, and as a team, the Rainbow Wahine are hitting .259 overall, the best in the Big West.
Long Beach State vs. the Rainbow Wahine
Hawaii is one of the few teams that hold a series lead against the 49ers; it currently stands at 24-15-1 in favor of the Hawaii. The teams are an even 8-8 in Long Beach, while the record stands at 5-15 for the 49ers in Hawaii after the last meeting between the teams, coming last year when the Rainbow Wahine outlasted the 49ers in five sets. Two departed seniors led the way for each team a year ago, as Caitlin Ledoux and Kanani Danielson had 18 kills apiece to lead their respective teams. That was the only meeting for the teams outside of an 2006 NCAA Tournament match since the 2000 season, when the teams split two meetings, each winning at home.
Senior Janisa Johnson is moving closer to an elite milestone, as she can become the 11th 49er to make 1,000 career digs. A starter for three seasons, Johnson is now 72 digs away from that milestone. An outside hitter, Johnson would also be just the fifth OH to reach 1,000 digs at Long Beach State, joining Tara Cross, Christine Romero, Nichelle Burton, and Antoinnette White in that accomplishment.
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