After a year of recovering on the sidelines, Cal Poly Volleyball senior outside hitter Torrey Van Winden made her return to the court in dramatic fashion — helping the Mustangs complete a reverse sweep to win their first round match in the NCAA Tournament.
“I wouldn’t say that it was seamless by any means, especially with me playing on the left for the first time since I was 14,” Van Winden said. “We just found a really great rhythm and it was a really well distributed game by [sophomore setter Avalon DeNecochea].”
Van Winden added 13 kills as the Mustangs climbed out of a 0-2 deficit by three straight sets to defeat Georgia.
“I’m pretty level headed,” Van Winden said. “But there was definitely a lot of nerves tonight, having been 367 days since the day that they told me that I couldn’t play last year in the NCAA tournament.”
Van Winden’s successful junior season, in which she led the Big West Conference with 466 kills and earned the 2018 Big West Player of the Year award, was cut short at the finish line. She suffered a concussion during practice the week of Cal Poly’s first round 2018 NCAA Tournament match.
Lingering effects of the concussion and post concussion syndrome kept Van Winden off the court for the entirety of this season, although she still practiced and traveled with the team.
“It was always the plan for her to play in this season,” head coach Caroline Walters said. “She wants to get on with her life after this.”
While Van Winden could have used a medical redshirt to extend her collegiate volleyball career for another year, giving her more time to recover, she chose to wait it out.
“So it didn’t matter how late we got in the season,” Walters saiad. “It was getting her back, making sure she was healthy enough, and obviously that took a really long time — a full year.”
Van Winden made an immediate impact for the Mustangs, earning the team’s first two kills of the opening set against Georgia.
“I’m as close to 100 percent as I can be right now,” Van Winden said. “It was leaning towards never playing indoor volleyball again. And that was a really hard pill to swallow. I’m just really proud of myself for fighting the entire time.”
While Van Winden’s .163 hitting percentage was not up to her .347 career average, her 13 kills were the second most for a balanced Cal Poly offense that had three players in double digit scoring.
“She definitely helps to even out the offense on the front row,” senior outside hitter Jessica McRoskey said. “She’s someone that the other team needs to worry about and I think she will keep bringing more and more as she is coming back from being out for the injury.”
Junior outside hitter Maia Dvoracek had 14 kills and McRoskey added 11. Sophomore middle blocker Meredith Phillips contributed nine and junior middle blocker Madilyn Mercer had eight.
“It’s about the kids who got us to this point too,” Walters said. “Torrey doesn’t have this option if Nikki Jackson doesn’t step up and have a great year for us. While it’s nice to have her back in the lineup … it took all 19 of our kids in our program to get this win tonight.”
Following the dramatic reverse sweep over Georgia, Cal Poly will play the No. 3 seed Stanford Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. inside Maples Pavilion.
“I think that it takes a very special group of people to do something like that,” Van Winden said. “Being able to pull that off just proves that we have all the pieces that we need to go really far in this tournament.”