After sweeping University of Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cal Poly volleyball team fell in the second round to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) three sets to one, bringing an end to the Mustangs school record 22 game win streak.
The meeting was the first between the two schools since sophomore outside hitter Torrey Van Winden transferred from the Bruins to the Mustangs before the beginning of this season.
he two teams traded leads 10 times in the first set, but the Mustangs ultimately took the set 28-26. Cal Poly trailed 3-5 early but stormed back with a 10-3 run to give Cal Poly a 13-8 lead.
Senior outside hitter Reily Buechler, who posted 10 points and a .455 hitting percentage in the set, propelled the Bruins comeback, tying the set at 19 apiece. But the Mustangs rallied behind strong play from Torrey and Adlee, who posted a .545 hitting percentage in the set, to take the back-and-forth contest. The sisters combined for 13 points in the first set, while Nelson added 14 assists.
The second set went to the Bruins after their stellar defense held the Mustangs to a hitting percentage of just .152 on their way to a 25-19 win. Buechler did most of the heavy lifting on offense for the Bruins, scoring 17 points during the first two sets on a hitting percentage of .421.
The Mustangs fell behind early on in the set after the Bruins started off with a 10-4 run. Cal Poly shrunk the UCLA lead to just three points with the score 11-14 but would not get any closer to the lead in the second set as the Mustangs eventually fell 19-25.
With the match tied at one set each, the Bruins started to pull away in the third set as they limited the Mustangs hitting percentage under .160 in two consecutive sets. The Mustangs took an early 11-8 lead, but the Bruins tore off a 17-5 run to take the set 25-16.
Everything fell apart for the Mustangs in the fourth and final set as the team couldn’t get going offensively. The Bruins saved their best defense for the final set, holding the Mustangs to just a .069 hitting percentage as UCLA took the set 18-25.
“I’m proud of the team, I’m proud of the hard work and the effort that they’ve put in,” Crosson said. “Certainly a tough way to end the season, but at the same time, more than anything — and we discussed this in the locker room after — it’s just not being able to be around the group on Monday at practice.”
Torrey was not her usual facing her old teammates. She led the Mustangs with 18.5 points, but she only hit .145 in the match and committed four service errors.
“I think [UCLA head coach] Tony Ker is one of the best scouters in the country and obviously they know my tendencies. They’re gonna know I hit crosscourt, and they’re gonna know I put up a fight … All in all, they just had better execution, I guess.”
Unforced errors became a theme in the Mustangs’ downfall, as they committed eight total service errors during the night.
Buechler continued her outstanding play for the Bruins, finishing the match with 28.5 points, 11 digs and 26 kills.
The loss is the first for the Mustangs in their past 23 matches, ending a historic run which saw Cal Poly go undefeated in conference play and the longest winning streak in school history.
“No words can really explain how amazing this season has been,” Nelson said. “Obviously we didn’t go out the way we wanted to tonight but we went out fighting and there’s a lot of emotions, but I think the saddest part is just knowing that I don’t get to come back and compete with my best friends this week.”
Going into next season, the Mustangs will lose their three seniors, Nelson, Greisen and Niemen, all of whom have been key contributors for Cal Poly.
“Moving forward, we like our recruits,” Crosson said. “We like what the future is going to be like, but most importantly we like the culture they are coming into.”
Only time will tell if the young crop of freshmen will be able to fill the rather large shoes of this year’s graduating seniors.