sheila sobchik

The stage was set for a fairytale ending to a Cinderella story Sunday morning, but Cal Poly’s volleyball team didn’t even make it to the dance before the stroke of midnight ended their season.

The Mustangs didn’t receive a bid to the NCAA tournament as just two Big West teams, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, qualified.

“We look at win-loss record, strength of schedule and non-conference strength of schedule,” said Sharon Cessna, the director of championship of NCAA and liaison to the selections committee. “Cal Poly did not have a strong enough non-conference strength of schedule to get the at large bid.”

Cessna doesn’t have a vote during the selection process, but she speaks for the committee after the brackets have been posted.

Cal Poly was under consideration and its overall record was tournament worthy, but the strength of schedule was the determining factor, Cessna said.

But Cal Poly volleyball coach Jon Stevenson said the story wasn’t necessarily who they didn’t play, but why they couldn’t.

In the midst of Stevenson being hired last season, Cal Poly’s schedule had already been set. He frantically searched for games to add to the schedule, booking the University of Southern California, a tournament team, nearly a month before the season began and the University of San Francisco, Stevenson said.

Unfortunately, those two were the only teams Stevenson could find that late in the year, he said.

“I feel bad for our kids because they did nothing wrong,” Stevenson said. “They just didn’t have the opportunity.

A telling statistic could have been Cal Poly’s 1-2 record against teams ranked 51-100, Stevenson said. Those losses came at San Francisco and the University of the Pacific.

Stevenson also cited a controversial loss to Cal State Northridge in the Mustangs’ Big West Conference opener as a damaging blemish.

Conference struggles

“I was told by at least 10 people that the No. 3 team in the Big West is a lock for the tournament,” Stevenson said.

The Big West was ranked as the seventh best conference in the nation by the Rich Kern conference ranking system. Using a methodology that takes the conferences overall performance into consideration, the Kern rating system placed Cal Poly behind such conferences as the Pac-10, Big Ten and the Big 12. According to the Kern system, the Big West was ninth in the nation in 2004, and still managed to send six bids to the NCAA tournament.

This season, the Big West was extended two invitations.

“It’s a far cry from a ‘fair as you can be’ national championship,” said Long Beach State’s volleyball coach Brian Gimmillaro. “I believe some teams are overlooked. I believe some regions, every year that I’ve been involved, are terribly off-balanced.”

Gimmillaro said that geography and financial implications of sending a team across the country to play can influence the selection committee’s decision.

Kathy Gregory, UC Santa Barbara’s volleyball coach, said her team’s early season failures combined with Long Beach State’s similar situation didn’t help the conference’s status, but that the conference still deserved at least three bids.

“I’m bitterly disappointed Cal Poly didn’t receive a bid,” Gregory said. “I think they didn’t get respect this year. The league didn’t earn the same respect it has in the past.”

Gregory added that, “the big majors are the conferences who get draws.”

The Pac-10 gets to play a ranked team almost nightly and the same thing with the Big-10, she said.

“All the California teams are going to get bad draws,” she said. “It’s all set up for USC and UCLA, those schools. We’re going to have to improve and beat all those teams.”

Undeserving?

The Big-12 had seven teams selected for the field of 64-teams, a pair of which Stevenson said were questionable. Stevenson said that Kansas, with its 15-14 overall record, and Colorado at 15-12, received the benefit of playing in a power conference.

Northwestern is another school with debatable qualifications, finishing the season at 19-11. The team was 2-9 against opponents in the top 25, according to the Kern rating system.

But who took Cal Poly’s spot in the tournament? While those three teams could have been factors, Stevenson also named the University of Nevada as a potential candidate.

Stevenson was almost certain the team was tournament-bound, only to find out otherwise.

“I don’t know if deserve is the right word, but were we good enough? Absolutely,” Stevenson said.

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