Jun 29, 2022 07:00 AM PST

Matadors Rekindle Playoff Dreams with 2-0 Weekend


The Inland Empire Matadors cam alive as they rekindled their play off aspirations, finishing Event 4 with one of the season's biggest upsets as they managed to pull a 3-0 sweep over the Los Angeles Blaze. The Matadors came together as a team with all their players filling in their roles, carrying their momentum over from a well-fought 3-2 match against the Colorado Kraken.


Matadors vs Blaze 

As a passing unit, Matadors' outside Eric Beaty and Jordan Walley averaged 79% perfect passing, with Beatty taking 15 attempts and Walley with 23. Additionally, both of the Matadors' middles had high-efficiency nights with no errors or blocks, with Ben Gabor hitting at 67% on nine swings and Noah Lassandro hitting 50% on ten swings. Lassandro even had a low out blocking performance claiming four stuff blocks himself leading all other players in the match. Setter Victor Vazquez had an impressive offensive showing himself as he played aggressively at the net with 11 attack attempts, scoring on six at 55%, proving to be an unconventional but advantageous playing style.

LA Blaze saw a phenomenal performance by opposite hitter Charles Belvin who scored 18 points in only a three-set match. On 23 attacking attempts, Belvin scored 16 points swinging at 70% efficiency and snagged two stuff blocks himself. Besides Belvin, Outside Rafael Cruz maintained a substantial 52% kill efficiency on 21 attempts. Unfortunately, Blaze struggled on the service line, committing 17 service errors without a single ace point.

In the end, Matadors increased their passing percentage every set thanks to Blaze's errors from the service line, passing at 80% positive passing in the last set, compared to Blaze's 60% average on the match. Even with Blaze scoring 66% of the time on positive receptions compared to the Matadors' 49%, the teams remained matched on hitting percentage. The slight advantage allowed Matadors to pull away in their side-out game while Blaze struggled to score more than one break point for every seven of their serves while the Matadors scored every four.


Matadors vs. Kraken

Matadors kept their momentum rolling, taking down a balanced Kraken team 3-2. Kraken started strong, with outside Alvaro Ascues coming out swinging to help Kraken immediately take a commanding lead and capture the first set. However, Ascues would go down in the second to an ankle injury from a clean back row attack, discombobulating Kraken into giving up an easy set to the Matadors, with middle Ben Gabor leading the way offensively. The third set would be more of a fight, with opposite Jacob Vander Beek and outside Eric Beatty helping propel Matadors to a 2-1 lead. Opposite Liam Jenkinson would help take control back for Kraken to dominate the fourth set, forcing a decisive fifth set. A slow start for Kraken seemed to ensure a Matador victory; however, Kraken would score four straight points to take a 13-12 lead late in the fifth. It would not prove enough, as Matadors would score the next three to take the set and the match.

Beatty and Vander Beek would finish with 20 and 19 kills to lead Matadors in points, while Gabor would finish on a 0.460 errorless clip. Jenkinson would lead Kraken with 11 kills, with Rahul Patel behind him with 9.

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Matadors now have a chance to pull forward and take a spot in the final four of the American Conference, with Southern Exposure just ahead of them by three FIVB points but with the same win-loss record. If Matadors can pull out a win over them in the next event and Exposure falls again to the Ramblers, they may still see their 2nd playoff appearance.


- NVA Staff Writer