Outside hitter Kristina Graven has been a key part of the Mustangs success this season. In her freshman season, Graven has helped Cal Poly to a 15-6 record. Ryan Sidarto – Mustang Daily

Outside hitter Kristina Graven was the first athlete to be named the Big West Player of the Week for the 2010-2011 year and since then has kept the success rolling. Now with the Mustangs (15-6, 5-3 Big West) threatening to make a run at the top spot in the conference with about a month left in the season, the women’s volleyball team is paralleling Graven’s triumphs.

Graven has already racked up an impressive athletic resume. She was the No. 28 ranked recruit in the nation out of high school by Prepvolleyball.com, a list of the best U.S. recruits with the most potential in college. She led the Mustangs with 17 kills in a four-set win against Marshall on Aug. 28 and she was named to the Shamrock Classic All-Tournament Team, one of the largest USA volleyball tournaments on the East Coast.

In addition, the Mustangs defeated Arizona in Graven’s first game when she racked up double digit kills and digs. She did it again against Notre Dame on Aug. 28.

But the 18-year-old still has one dream she shares with her fellow teammates.

“I think we all really want to win (the Big West) right now, that’s the thing we’re working towards,” Graven said. “We just need to win out the rest of our matches and (make it to the) tournament and (do well) there.”

Currently, Graven is the highest ranked recruit coach Jon Stevenson has worked with at Cal Poly. Graven has high hopes that Stevenson will lead the team to victory. The team’s recent win against UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton was a result of good coaching, Graven said.

“He’s really good in practice,” Graven said. “He has scouting reports and we watch tapes (to help our performance). He knows everything the teams can do and what their tendencies are.”

To help the girls prepare for matches, the coaches try to make practice “game-like” and “emulate the game as much (as possible) so when (the players) get on the court, it’s like second nature to them,” assistant coach Caroline Walters said.

Walters can tell this technique works when she sees Graven on the court, she said.

“As a freshman, I think she’s already exceeded expectations,” Walters said. “She’s a leader statistically in all our matches played, and that’s all you can ask from a freshman. She has quick speed for someone who just came from high school to college.”

Graven has support from her teammates, too. Growing up with Graven, middle blocker Marianne Gera said she can “really see that (Graven) has evolved into a really great volleyball player.”

“As another player on the court, Kristina is a confident person that you’d want (to be on the) team,” Gera said. “You can believe she’ll get the job done, and you can go to her for help and for a confidence booster. She keeps good energy and attitude.”

Graven’s dedication to volleyball helped her choose which college was most suitable for her academic and athletic career. Having chosen Cal Poly over California and UC San Diego, she couldn’t be happier with her decision.

“I really like the coaching staff, their philosophy and the atmosphere of the school,” Graven said. “I just felt like I fit in here.”

In addition, Graven said the new group of people she met at Cal Poly shares great chemistry and works well together.

“I’ve had a great time with the team, and it’s been really fun,” Graven said. “We play really well together; everyone is really positive. Everybody respects everybody — It’s not (as if) you have to have the title of ‘captain’ (to be respected). Everyone has their place and say.”

On the other hand, off the court, Graven’s future dreams have nothing to do with volleyball.

“I like to cook a lot — all the time,” Graven said. “I think I want to end up cooking for a career and open my own bakery in the future. But, volleyball takes up a lot of time. It’s hard to have other hobbies.”

Graven and the women’s volleyball team will return home on Oct. 22 against Cal State Northridge at 7 p.m.

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