The Cal Poly volleyball team secured their 19th straight win on Senior Night against UC Irvine after defeating the Anteaters in three sets (25-11, 25-20, 25-16) at Mott Athletic Center Saturday.
With the Mustangs’ (24-2, 14-0) sweep over UC Irvine (21-6, 9-5), they were able to clinch the Big West title and a spot in the NCAA tournament. This is their first Big West title and NCAA tournament berth since 2007 when the Mustangs lost in the second round of the tournament.
Cal Poly was able to get the win behind sophomore outside hitter Torrey Van Winden’s game-high 13 kills and senior setter Taylor Nelson’s 27 assists and seven digs. Senior outside hitter Raeann Greisen and senior middle blocker Savannah Niemen also finished with six and seven kills respectively. Freshman middle blocker Madilyn Mercer added four kills and a team-high five blocks.
Cal Poly took the lead in the beginning of the first set and never looked back. Halfway through the set they led 13-8 and finished the game off with a 25-11 score after several UC Irvine attack errors. The dominant set was led by Van Winden and Mercers’ four kills.
The second set proved to be a challenge for Cal Poly. The Mustangs fell behind after UC Irvine junior outside hitter Haley DeSales and sophomore middle blocker Makayla Wolfe each had several kills to give the Anteaters a 17-13 lead.
However, Van Winden and her sister, junior outside hitter Adlee Van Winden, each added two kills apiece that helped decrease the deficit and narrow the score to 20-19. Cal Poly then rallied late, scoring the last six points to take the close second set 25-20.
In the beginning of the third set, the Anteaters kept it close and trailed 7-6. Cal Poly then went on a 4-0 run to go up 11-6. After trading points, the Mustangs eventually took a commanding 17-9 lead. A kill by Niemen ended the match and secured the Big West Conference title.
“It feels incredible to be conference champs after we worked really hard for it, so everyone is over the moon right now,” Torrey said. “Our three seniors paved the way, they’re so many people along the road who didn’t make it because this program is incredibly hard. These girls know what they want and they finally got it and I can’t thank them enough.”
One of those three seniors was Nelson, who ranks third in the nation in assists per set (12.11) coming into this game. Nelson expressed her emotions about her career at Cal Poly and the comradery of the team after the win.
“This win means everything, and it’s been such a fun ride the last four years so to end on a note like this is something we can only ask for,” Nelson said. “We were all here in the summer talking about doing anything to get a Big West Championship, and we’ve come so far the past four years so having it be our final year, we just came out as hard as we could.”
For head coach Sam Crosson, the success of this season shows the change the program has gone through since he took the helm in 2012 after former head coach Jon Stevenson was dismissed by Cal Poly following an investigation involving several reports of sexual misconduct.
“I’m just proud of them to be on the other side of where they were four years ago in terms of our record and where we were as a program,” Crosson said. “We’re going to keep challenging our players, challenging ourselves and just keep raising the bar and see what we can do after the season. We’re going to enjoy the weekend and then be very excited to go play at Riverside and Fullerton next weekend ‘cause the next thing we want to do is go 16-0.”
The Mustangs will finish their regular season on a two-match road trip at UC Riverside Friday at 7 p.m followed by a match at Cal State Fullerton Saturday at 7 p.m.