In their first key test in conference play, No. 13 Cal Poly Volleyball defeated Hawai’i in four sets (25-19, 25-18, 21-25, 27-25) in a sold-out Mott Athletics Center on Saturday, Oct. 6 to extend their winning streak to 15 matches.
Video by Sawyer Milam
The win against the Rainbow Wahine (9-6, 5-1 Big West) put the Mustangs (16-1, 6-0) in first place in the Big West Conference. The Mustangs have won 17 matches consecutively at Mott Athletics Center and 23 matches in conference play dating back to last season.
Leading the efforts for the Mustangs, junior outside hitter Torrey Van Winden recorded a season-high 29 kills and 14 digs, earning her fifth double-double of the season, while also blocking four shots in the process. Senior outside hitter Adlee Van Winden also recorded a double-double in the match, recording 13 kills and 10 digs. Senior libero Katherine Brouker led both teams in digs with 26 throughout the night.
The match began with the Mustangs and the Rainbow Wahine keeping each other in check, with no team leading by more than three points early in the set. Hawai’i was up 16-15 in the first set before four straight errors by the Rainbow Wahine gave Cal Poly a 19-15 lead. The Mustangs took six of the next nine points to win the set 25-19, with Torrey van Winden notching a kill to secure the set for Cal Poly.
The second set began with the Mustangs going on a 6-2 run before the Rainbow Wahine tied the set at 9-9. Key assists from freshman setter Avalon DeNecochea allowed the Mustangs to regain the lead and take control of the rest of the set, eventually winning 25-18. DeNecochea recorded 49 assists in the match, with two of her three kills in the match coming in the second set.
In the third set, the Rainbow Wahine created some problems for the Mustangs’ offense, leading to eight of the Cal Poly’s total 24 errors. While the Mustangs were able to fight back after being down 7-3 early on and eventually take a 16-15 lead, Hawai’i went on to win the set by a final score of 25-21. Rainbow Wahine outside hitter McKenna Granato recorded two kills and an ace late in the third set to secure the set for Hawai’i.
“This was the first match in a while, with all due respect to the other teams in conference, … where our opponent really made things difficult for us to score,” head coach Sam Crosson said. “[I]t’s mainly trying to keep [the players] in the moment and being able to … figure out whether or not it’s a tactical thing we want to start changing, or whether or not we are in good situations, but the execution isn’t there.”
The fourth and final set was a back-and-forth battle between the Mustangs and the Rainbow Wahine. In the final moments of the set, with Cal Poly leading 24-22, Hawai’i scored three unanswered points to obtain a match point of their own at 25-24.
Two back-to-back kills from freshman middle blocker Meredith Phillips gave the Mustangs the lead and the match point again. A setting error from Rainbow Wahine setter Norene Iosia gave the Mustangs the set, 27-25, and the win. The back-and-forth at the end of the match between the Mustangs and the Rainbow Wahine led to a tense atmosphere in the crowd. However, the Mustangs were unphased by the pressure at hand, maintaining their mantra of “execution over emotion.”
“We just have to stay steady and confident and focused, and then just remember when the play’s over, it’s over,” DeNecochea said. “We were good at that, and just keeping that mentality.”
The win against Hawai’i puts the Mustangs, who take on UC Santa Barbara (12-7, 4-3) at home on Friday, Oct. 12, one step closer to repeating as Big West champions. This win also sets the team up for a strong showing in postseason play and the possibility of hosting tournament matches in Mott Athletics Center.
“We’re excited about a Big West championship, but the biggest motivator is having the opportunity to host a first round [NCAA tournament match] here,” Torrey Van Winden said. “In order to do that, we need to go undefeated in conference, and that’s the biggest motivator for us [to go undefeated].”