Cal Poly Volleyball saw prominent success the past two seasons as they won back-to-back Big West championships and appeared in two consecutive NCAA tournaments.
The Mustangs produced a 25-3 overall record last season with a 15-1 conference record in the Big West. As a result, the Mustangs were picked to win the Big West title again in the 2019 Big West Preseason Coaches Poll. The Mustangs were also ranked No. 23 in the Preseason AVCA Coaches Poll.
Despite high expectations from polls, the Mustangs’ focus has remained the same heading into the 2019 season.
“I think our mentality does a good job of tuning [polls] out and just doing what we do,” senior libero Mika Dickson said. “Winning the Big West would be awesome, but a big thing we are focusing on is getting better.”
The Mustangs will have to find production elsewhere this year in order to be successful as the program lost key players Adlee Van Winden and Katherine Brouker to graduation. As a junior, Brouker’s team-leading 407 digs were the fourth highest amount in the Big West. Van Winden finished second on the team in kills with 336, good for ninth-best in the Big West.
While the Mustangs lost a lot of production from Van Winden and Brouker, the program also welcomes an impressive lineup of underclassmen.
“I think we are doing a good job of spreading it all out, and I think it makes it harder for our opponents to block us,” senior outside hitter Nikki Jackson said. “We do not just have that one person who we lean on and [who] the [other team] knows is going to get the ball.”
Dickson was also quick to point out sophomore middle bumper Meredith Phillips for her strength on the court.
“She came in really strong as a freshman last year, and she has a big role on the team this year as only a sophomore,” Dickson said.
To add to the complexity of losing two of their most productive players from last year, the Mustangs also lost seven-year head coach Sam Crosson, who departed after taking the head coaching job at UC Berkeley. Crosson compiled an overall record of 114-83 while being named the Big West Coach of the Year in 2017 and 2018.
Despite their losses, the Mustangs said they do not feel a drastic change in the program.
“I think we have done a really good job keeping the team’s culture,” Dickson said. “It has been an easy transition for all of us.”
In December, Cal Poly announced the promotion of Caroline Walters to head coach. Walters was the interim head coach at Cal Poly seven years ago and served as the associate head coach for the past two seasons.
“She was a big part of our success last season, so I feel like nothing has really changed,” Dickson said.
Walters and the Mustangs have already started this season’s campaign and compiled a 3-3 record in the last six games. The team opened their season with a three-game tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah on Aug. 30-31. The Mustangs faced 3-0 defeats against No. 7 Kentucky and Saint Mary’s College of California before dropping their final game to University of Utah in a tight 3-2 result. However, the Mustangs overcame their slow start to the season back in San Luis Obispo with the ShareSLO Mustang Challenge on Sept. 5-7.
Similar to their defeats in Utah, the Mustangs secured two convincing wins with 3-0 sweeps over North Texas University and San Jose State. Cal Poly also secured their final win of the tournament with a 3-2 victory against Wichita State despite being down 2-1 with two sets remaining.
The Mustangs will continue non-conference play in the Pepperdine Asics Classic on September 13-14. The tournament will test Cal Poly’s preparation, as the team is set to play two nationally ranked programs in No. 6 Pittsburgh and No. 16 Utah.