The Cal Poly volleyball team is gaining momentum in conference play, and the peaks and valleys that characterized the beginning of the season might be a thing of the past now.
After a 3-1 start, head coach Jon Stevenson was relieved of his post due to allegations of unprofessional conduct. Stevenson had been with the program since 2005 and led the team to two postseason berths during his tenure. Following his dismissal, former assistant coach Caroline Walters was named interim head coach, and consequently, she said she had to deliver the most important speech of her career the first day on the job.
“It was a little strange to tell (the players) that their head coach wouldn’t be with the team anymore,” Walters said. “We just asked them to trust the athletics department and focus on making sure the season would still be successful.”
Walters knows about success–she played volleyball at Santa Clara and is the school’s all-time leader in assists per game.
Following the coaching transition, the Mustangs lost nine of their next 11 matches. In four of the losses, Cal Poly failed to win a set. Despite the loss of its head coach and the uncertainty surrounding the program, the team found solace in each other.
“As a team, we came together and moved on,” middle blocker Jennifer Keddy said. “We decided that we couldn’t let this situation ruin the rest of our season.”
After the poor start, Walters made the decision to shuffle the lineup around. She moved Keddy, an All-American, away from the net and used her in all six rotations.
“It was important to have (Keddy) play all around,” Walters said. “The power we have out of the back court from her is as good as most people’s hitting in the front row. Also, Catie Smith was moved to the right side where we could take advantage of her ball control.”
These moves paid great dividends a week ago as Cal Poly upset UC Davis, who had lost only once, in a 3-0 match. UC Davis came to San Luis Obispo in first place in the Big West Conference and left after being swept by the Mustangs.
The team followed up that win with another 3-0 victory against Pacific. The weekend sweep propelled Cal Poly back into the thick of the Big West race and made winning the conference a possibility again.
“It was a building process that all came together this weekend,” sophomore middle blocker Kristina Graven said. “We have been working on our offense a lot, and everything finally clicked.”
Moving forward, Cal Poly will face Big West contenders Cal State Fullerton, UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State. The Gauchos come to Mott Gym on Wednesday night for a homecoming match.
Luckily the team has the luxury of playing six of the next nine matches in the friendly confines of Mott Gym, where the team is 3-0.
“We have to keep working hard in practice,” Keddy said. “If we do that, then the wins will take care of themselves.”
The team unity and new-found momentum might lead to the team peaking at the end of the season.
“The attitude in the gym has been fantastic, and they have wanted to be in the gym every day,” Walters said. “They trusted that even when things were not going our way we would get there eventually.”