The Mustangs kick off their season with four matchups in Florida. Credit: Kayla Stuart | Mustang News

Cal Poly Beach Volleyball is coming off of back-to-back-to-back Big West Championships and NCAA National Championship appearances. 

This year, nearly half the team is made up of new faces and a handful of the returners are facing injuries. 

On top of that, the team has a gauntlet of a schedule, as per usual. They will face 14 of the top 20 teams in the AVCA Preseason Polls, a list that had Cal Poly at No. 13.

“[The schedule] is par for the course,” eighth-year head coach Todd Rogers said. “I am not a big believer in scheduling a bunch of patsies, because who wants to play a bunch of patsies.” 

The Mustangs’ non-conference schedule will preface another Big West tournament run and, if all goes as planned, the NCAA Championships. 

The highlight of the season’s schedule is the Center of Effort Challenge, which will be hosted by Cal Poly at the Swanson Beach Volleyball Complex on Friday, April 14 and Saturday, April 15.

“It’s the coolest event in the country outside of the NCAA Championships,” Rogers said. 

The tournament will feature two pools and crown a champion for the first time. Besides Cal Poly, teams include No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Florida State, No. 3 TCU, No. 4 USC, No. 7 LMU, No. 14 Long Beach State and No. 17 Pepperdine. 

“I think the [Center of Effort Challenge] gives us a better chance of making the NCAA tournament,” freshman Izzy Martinez said. 

Martinez, one of the newcomers this season, has attended the tournament the last two years when she was in high school and looks forward to playing in it this year. 

While Martinez will look to come in and make an immediate impact, the team did lose some key faces, including Tia Miric

Miric is one of the most decorated players to step on the Swanson sand. She is a three-time All-American, Cal Poly Scholar-Athlete of the Year and has been at the No. 1 spot for the team for most of her career. 

Her partner last season was then-freshman Ella Connor, who is redshirting this season due to an injury. 

At the No. 2 spot last year were sophomore Piper Ferch and redshirt senior Jayelin Lombard. This pairing will likely be seen at the top of the lineup as possibly the only returning duo.

The oldest player on the team, Delaney Peranich, bounced around the No. 3,4 and 5 spots last season, but according to Rogers, she should be seen on the top three courts. 

As a veteran on the team, Peranich has seen several different iterations of the team, and what stands out to her most about this team is the intangibles off the court. 

“I think our culture is the best culture in NCAA Division-I Volleyball,” Peranich said. 

Martinez, who will also be on the top three courts to start the season, also mentioned the culture, saying it was “the thing that stands out the most about this team.”

While the team’s culture seems to be there, both Martinez and Peranich see the team’s physicality as an aspect of the game that could need improvement.

“We’re an undersized team so we have to be physical at the net,” Martinez said. 

“Honestly, I think we can outsmart any of the top teams, it’s just a matter of physicality – whether we have it or not,” Peranich said.

Graduate Brooke Golik, another first-year Mustang, transferred to Cal Poly to play beach volleyball after playing soccer for four years as an undergraduate at Southern Methodist University.

“It’s kind of unique and pretty awesome,” Rogers said about Golik and her transition to the beach. 

Golik’s impact has been immediately recognizable on the team, as according to Rogers, she should be in the top three pairings. 

“The fact that she has already ratcheted it up and is going forward is pretty amazing,” Rogers said. 

On the coaching side, the team has seen changes too. Mariah Whalen, who battled injury for most of her career, was planning on playing this season. However, she lost eligibility and turned to coaching, becoming a volunteer assistant coach for Cal Poly. 

“I have always tried to have a younger female to give them to someone to talk to,” Rogers said. “I am an almost 50-year-old guy, I am not going to relate with them on many levels.”

The Mustangs start their season in Florida where they will play No. 2 FSU, No. 16 FIU, No. 19 University of Southern Carolina and Coastal Carolina University on Saturday, Feb. 25 and Sunday, Feb. 26.