The Cal Poly Volleyball team is continuing to prove why they are predicted to repeat as Big West Conference Champions, defeating Cal State Northridge 3-0 Friday, and Long Beach State 3-0 Saturday.
The Mustangs (15-1, 5-0 Big West) have encapsulated the essence of “Ride High” during their dynamic winning streak. The team has carried the momentum from last year’s successful season, resulting in a rank of 13th in the nation.
CSUN (5-10, 1-2) came out swinging in the first set, and built a five point lead. However, the Mustangs stayed true to their “execution over emotion” motto and were not rattled, taking the first set 25-16.
After that, the game was consumed by a wave of green and gold. The Mustangs pushed their way to an early 3-0 lead and never looked back. Senior outside hitter Adlee Van Winden and junior outside hitter Torrey Van Winden combined for 11 kills in this set alone. Despite a last charge by the Matadors, the Mustangs held on to take the second set 25-17. Cal Poly secured the sweep with a 25-17 third set victory.
“I feel like we had really good energy this match against CSUN, and we had a dominant win,” Freshman setter Avalon DeNecochea said. Torrey Van Winden, who contributed a team-high 18 kills, attributed some of her success to playing in front of a packed Mott Athletics Center.
“I think that [playing at home] translates tenfold,” Torrey Van Winden said. “When we walk into the gym, and we hear the band and we get the video … and we see there’s so many people there supporting us, especially during kid’s night, and we see all those little girls and boys that are excited about the sport and just growing the game in general makes our team really excited.”
Cal Poly took down Long Beach State (10-7, 2-2) in the team’s sixth-straight sweep and 16th consecutive win in Mott Athletics Center to remain atop the Big West Conference.
While Long Beach State held their own in each set (25-18,25-16,25-18), the 49ers could not contain Torrey Van Winden who led the Mustangs with 14 kills and 13 digs to help Cal Poly extend their Big West Conference winning streak to 22 games.
After last season’s historic run, the Mustangs are looking to take it a step further, but history shows it can be hard to replicate a magical season in any sport. However, with the standards and intense atmosphere that the team has created in the gym and in practice, anything is possible.
“We constantly hold each other to that standard in practice every single day; that if you don’t call for a ball that is not acceptable in our gym,” Van Winden said. “I think that just having that high standard and having teammates who hold each other accountable has really contributed to just taking the court with confidence and knowing that our expectations are really high in these conference games.”
The continued success of the Women’s Volleyball program may feel like it has to be cherished, but with head coach Sam Crosson’s philosophy of constant improvement, the Mustangs are looking more dangerous than ever, with no sign of any drop-off in the future.
“The main concept for us is just, are we improving? Are we improving in the areas that we’re investing time in a practice environment?,” Crosson said. “If that’s occurring, then we like our chances in a lot of matches because we have a lot of good pieces.”
Even with expectations higher than ever, the team has consistently preached its season mantra, “Execution over emotion,” to keep the team grounded for its long-term season goals.
“[By focusing on execution over emotion] we kind of get away from being in the peaks and the valleys of the emotion and just kind of sustain and maintain,” Crosson said. “Ultimately the game of volleyball is going to be who executes better, it’s not about who wants to win it more or what happened on one particular play because every play is its own unique thing.”
No matter how high the ceiling is for Cal Poly, the players always emphasize that the dominance viewers see on the court would not be possible without Crosson and the comradery that has been forged over the past years to turn the team into a well-oiled machine.
“[Crosson] is a very intense guy and I think that’s something I love about him,” Van Winden said. “We have the freedom to get on each other as teammates, from the coaching staff, we have freedom to be vocal about what we need from our teammates, and then still have a good friendship and be a tight-knit group so I think that’s definitely a strength of our team.”
Upholding that accountability for one another can be a hard thing to do, especially for a freshman playing key minutes for a nationally ranked team. However, freshman setter Avalon DeNecochea, who had a match-high 28 assists Saturday, understands that the freshmen on this team would be hard-pressed trying to find a team like this anywhere else.
“It’s been great to play on a team at such a high level,” DeNecochea said. “I’ve never played on a team this good before and it’s just been so much fun.”
Cal Poly Volleyball will look to build on their impressive season thus far when they host Hawaii (7-5,3-0) on Saturday, Oct. 6 for a highly anticipated match between the first and second place teams in the Big West Conference. It will be the first meeting since last year, when both teams drew a sell out crowd for the first time since 2006.
While Crosson has the team on a very focused and methodical approach to each game, the players still understand that there will be a lot of buzz surrounding next week’s match.
“We like to just stay serious and take it one game at a time and get onto the next one, but we’re also excited to have a big crowd and this is a really exciting game for us because of the rivalry we’ve had in the past,” DeNecochea said.