Stop by Mott Gym on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night this October and you might witness a youth revolution.
The Cal Poly volleyball team has strung together a performance on the court in the past two seasons that is unmatched in the program’s past five years.
In 2015 and 2016, the Mustangs’ consistent success in October powered them to a top three status in the Big West conference. In 2015, Cal Poly wrapped up September with an 8-4 record, 0-1 in conference. What ensued in October was unprecedented for the Mustangs since head coach Sam Crosson joined the program in 2012.
The Mustangs rattled off seven straight wins on their way to an 8-1 record in that month, compiling an overall set score of 26-6. With a 16-5 record, including 8-2 in conference matchups, the Mustangs fought the likes of Long Beach State and perennial power Hawaii for the top spots in the Big West conference.
This season, the team is at it again.
Following a tough pre-conference slate of games that included four matchups against teams ranked in the country’s top 20, the Mustangs entered October with a 7-6 record and 0-2 in conference. They proceeded to notch six wins in a row and dropped just three sets, compiling an aggregate set score of 18-3.
Unfortunately, this year’s Big West conference leader, Long Beach State, put an end to the streak last Saturday night. But with one game left Friday night at home against UC Santa Barbara (13-9, 4-5), the Mustangs are 13-7 and 6-3 in the Big West. With a victory against the Gauchos in Mott Gym, Cal Poly would remain in third place in conference and within distance of catching Long Beach State and Hawaii.
A huge part of the success in the past two years for the Mustangs was the performance of their young players.
Crosson became head coach after serving as an assistant at UC Berkeley. His main focus in the Bears’ program was to develop the program’s setters and middle blockers.
Since last fall, the Mustangs have had promising talent for both positions in addition to younger athletes for outside hitter.
Junior setter Taylor Nelson leads the Big West conference in assists per set (11.6) after ranking second in conference last year. Senior Taylor Gruenewald and junior Savannah Nieman are two standout middle blockers that Crosson can rotate over the course of a match, and provide the team with the blocking presence to seal games defensively.
The depth at outside hitter is what really sets this unit apart from teams in years past. Junior outside hitter Raeann Greisen plays the role of veteran leader this season after two years of development that included two All-Conference honors. The team relies on her in clutch situations, such as in last Friday’s game against Northridge when she scored nine points in the final set.
Beyond Greisen, sophomore outside hitter Adlee Van Winden continues her Big West Freshman of the Year performance from 2015 to sit fifth in conference in kills. Gonzaga transfer sophomore Alexis Clewis has been a welcome addition to the team at outside hitter as well, notching 200 kills this season. Between Van Winden, Clewis and Greisen, the Mustangs have a mix of youth, experience and talent to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
A team as talented as the Mustangs’ squad this season has the potential to contend for the Big West now and in the coming years. The offense will only get better as the younger players at outside hitter continue to progress and the veteran leadership will help the team be prepared for high-stakes situations.
With another great October come and almost gone for the Mustangs, it looks like they have a chance to contend for a top finish in the Big West conference for the second year in a row.