This season, the Cal Poly Women’s Volleyball team made history by recording the best start in program history at 19-1 — a record that has remained untouched since 1984. One person in particular was elated to see this record-breaking season unfold: Kelly Van Winden, an All-American outside hitter, Cal Poly volleyball alum and one of the teammates to secure Cal Poly’s first Big West Championship in 1984.

Here is where it gets interesting: two large contributors to breaking the 1984 win-streak record this season are Torrey and Adlee Van Winden, current Mustang volleyball all-stars and daughters of Kelly Van Winden — the previous owner of this record.

Upon hearing that her daughters and their teammates broke her win-streak record, Kelly Van Winden said she was “beyond thrilled.”

“The program has gone up and down and it’s definitely in an upswing right now,” Kelly Van Winden said. “It’s really exciting to see the team regain notoriety nationally. I’m so happy for everyone in the program.” 

Adlee Van Winden, senior outside hitter for the Mustangs, reiterated that the support from both her mother and the rest of the 1984 Cal Poly volleyball team was immense.

“It’s special … my mom always says records are meant to be broken, so I think she’s very happy that it’s us [who] did it,” Adlee Van Winden said.

She said a close group of her mother’s past teammates and friends, who call themselves the “SLO-Mamas,” met up with the current Mustang team to say congratulations and show their support for the program.

“There’s really no sense of competitiveness or anything like that. They’re just proud to know the people who did it and to have a relationship with us,” Adlee Van Winden said.  

Kelly Van Winden was an All-American outside hitter and team captain for the Mustangs in the 1980s. Cal Poly Athletics | Courtesy

Though there may not be a sense of competitiveness between the current players and alumni, Torrey and Adlee Van Winden’s childhood dynamic proved to be quite the opposite.

“Oh, we were definitely competitive growing up, and not just in volleyball. Even walking to the mailbox every night was a race for us,” Adlee Van Winden said.

Although their childhood playfulness may seem like a thing of the past, both of the Van Winden sisters agreed their young competitive nature was channeled through volleyball and molded into something very constructive. Building off of each other’s play and learning to do what the other was more skilled at, the Van Winden sisters became a phenomenal duo on and off the court. Torrey Van Winden, who transferred to Cal Poly after playing volleyball at UCLA for two years, felt that leaving the Bruins for the Mustangs was ultimately the best choice for her as a player.

“I knew once I went to UCLA that I wasn’t enjoying playing as much when I wasn’t getting to be competitive with her [Adlee] on the court, and that I wanted to be back playing with her,” Torrey Van Winden said. “I think we’ve really channeled our competitiveness on the court into this togetherness and we take that competitive energy and channel it to whoever we’re playing against, we channel it into our teammates and challenge them to compete with us.” 

While the sisters’ togetherness on the court has turned the duo into a well-oiled machine, it is ultimately their differing personalities and playing styles that drive their success.

“Adlee is a silent leader — she works exceptionally hard, but she is silent and focused,” Kelly Van Winden said. “Torrey is more vocal. Sometimes she is very intense, but always with a purpose.”

“Our playing styles have always been very separate,” Torrey Van Winden said. “I’ve always been a technically based player. I’ve always been interested in how I can get my hitting percentage higher, and Adlee was the opposite. She was always just naturally gifted with the game.”

Many of Kelly Van Winden’s former teammates, who still attend the Cal Poly volleyball matches, say the sisters’ personalities and playing style on the court runs in the family.

Torrey and Adlee Van Winden combined for 746 kills in the 2018 season, more than the rest of the Mustangs combined. Diego Rivera | Mustang News

“Some people I used to play with at Cal Poly have seen the games and have said, ‘Oh my gosh, I see so much of you in them,’” Kelly Van Winden said. “I guess their movements and excitement and the way they talk to their teammates on the court is like [what] I did. It’s definitely a compliment, but I was surprised to hear it because I really didn’t think we were all so similar. I don’t think my daughters would be too happy to hear that they’re so similar to me.” 

Although Torrey and Adlee take after their mom through their volleyball skills, they may also have their dad to thank for their athletic ability. Jim Van Winden, coming in at just under seven-feet tall, was also a Mustangs sports legend, for the Cal Poly basketball team.

“My husband and I met at Cal Poly,” Kelly Van Winden said. “We never thought our daughters would attend Cal Poly, we never pushed it on them. But we are so happy that they are [here] and playing for such an incredible program.”

While the family members were all in agreement when it came to describing each other’s personalities and playing styles, a few differing opinions were expressed when asked who the best player in their family is.

“I would say my mom is the most knowledgeable about volleyball, and she was probably the best all-around player,” Torrey Van Winden said.

“Adlee is probably the best all-around volleyball athlete — she knows the game so well,” Kelly Van Winden said.

Meanwhile, Adlee Van Winden said, “Honestly, my dad might be the best player. His height definitely gives him an athletic advantage, and he’s amazing on the beach courts.”

Whether or not they agree on who gets the trophy for best family athlete, one thing is certain: Cal Poly’s Mott Stadium will always be thankful for and home to the Van Winden family.

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