Cal Poly women’s volleyball setter Chelsea Hayes pounded her fist to the floor at Walter Pyramid after losing a two-set lead at Long Beach State in 2006. She knew that a decisive fifth-game loss could hand the Mustangs their first Big West Conference defeat of the season.
“When she pounded her hand on the floor, I thought, ‘We’re going to win this match,’ ” Mustangs head coach Jon Stevenson said.
In the end, it all worked out for Stevenson, Hayes and the rest of the Mustangs, as they rebounded and won the fifth game on the way to a 30-20, 30-19, 20-30, 35-37, 17-15 victory en route to their first Big West title in the Stevenson era. Two years later, Cal Poly is heading back to the pyramid for another conference-shaping tilt with the 49ers at 7 p.m. Friday.
The lone match of the week for Cal Poly (9-6, 4-0) is possibly the biggest of the conference schedule, which makes it a blessing, according to Stevenson.
“We are in a very good position to focus on Long Beach this Friday and we’ll be ready to play,” Stevenson said.
Cal Poly has taken five consecutive matches against Long Beach State (12-3, 2-1), including two five-set wins at the pyramid.
“I think it’s a different year, a different team,” Stevenson said of the 49ers. “Long Beach State, they’re not the same without (former middle blocker) Alexis Crimes.”
Long Beach State was shocked in three games in its first conference match by Pacific, which was winless in its non-conference schedule. The 49ers have since won two straight conference matches.
Cal Poly has won all of its conference contests, dropping just one game in four wins.
A big part of the Mustangs’ success has been the resurgence of junior outside hitter Ashleigh Bertoni.
“It’s always nice to see someone who works as hard as Ashleigh does contribute the way she did,” Stevenson said of Bertoni’s last outing, a 25-23, 25-10, 25-21 sweep of Pacific in which she had a streak of four consecutive aces. “She’s in a different role than she has been in the last two years. She hits what might be some sort of hybrid serve. She has this ability to hit it very hard, and it’s a really difficult serve to pass.”
Stevenson said that Bertoni does more than the typical serving specialist and her effort has helped lift the team.
“She can serve a couple of tough balls,” he explained. “Not only did she serve for some points but she also got a kill out of the back row. You don’t see that with serving specialists typically. Ashleigh’s contribution in that role is as meaningful as any serving specialist that I’ve seen.”
The Mustangs will need a big effort from Bertoni and the rest of the squad as they play what is likely their biggest test on the conference schedule.
“They’ll have to rely on other players to come up big and we’ll see which players can do that,” Stevenson said of the 49ers’ attempts to make up for Crimes’ central role. “But we’ll be prepared for them.”