The Cal Poly volleyball team will make its second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance as the field’s 16th-seeded program on Friday evening against Xavier. The tournament selection committee drew the Big West Conference champions into the Ohio University Regional with Cal Poly opening postseason play against Xavier, a program the Mustangs fell to earlier this season.
“We’re a little disappointed that we’re not hosting, but I think we’ll do well regardless,” junior middle blocker Jaclyn Houston said.
Although the team will not be playing at home, the Mustangs are hungry for a win.
“We’re ready to get revenge (against Xavier) in Ohio. We’ve lost to them once before, but I think we’ll do much better this time,” senior libero Kristen Jackson said. Although content with the seed Cal Poly was given, the Jackson was disappointed that her team will have to travel such a long way for the tournament.
Senior setter Chelsea Hayes seemed optimistic about Friday following the announcement of the host sites, though she said, “It’s going to be a long trip to Ohio.”
“Yesterday we had our best practice of the whole season. We really pushed ourselves out on the court and everyone was pumped to be out there. I’d say we’re at our peak in the season, which will be good going up against Xavier,” she said.
The team has much to be proud of going into the tournament. Junior opposite Kylie Atherstone was honored with her second-consecutive Player of the Year honor on Nov. 20. Also, a program-record six Mustangs earned All-Big West praise and Jon Stevenson was voted by conference peers to his second-straight Big West Coach of the Year honor.
Joining Atherstone on the All-Big West first team was Hayes, Jackson, Houston and junior outside hitter Ali Waller. Also honored by the conference was Mustang middle blocker Dominique Olowolafe, who earned a spot on the all-freshman team.
“I could not be more proud of our Big West championship squad and the incredible feats that they have been able to accomplish during the past few months,” Stevenson said. “The individual awards received by our players must be viewed as a testimony to a great team effort.”
Atherstone led all conference players in kills per game (4.75) and total kills (494) and placed second in both aces per game (0.48) and total aces (50).
The junior sensation smashed a conference record this season by winning six Big West Player of the Week awards and recorded a career-high 32 kills in the Mustangs’ 3-1 victory against UC Santa Barbara Nov. 8 and 30 kills in a five-set Oct. 20 win at second-place Long Beach State – a triumph that ultimately provided Cal Poly with its Big West title.
Atherstone, whose current 4.75 kills-per-game pace is the second-highest single-season figure in program history, has posted nine matches of 20-plus kills, 18 of 15-plus and reached double digits in 24 of Cal Poly’s 28 contests.
A three-time All-Big West first team selection, Atherstone is the first athlete to repeat as conference Player of the Year since Long Beach State’s Cheryl Weaver (2000-01). With her senior year remaining, Atherstone has a chance to become the first three-time Player of the Year selection since Long Beach State standout and U.S. Olympian Misty May (1996-98).
Jackson’s record-setting 2007 campaign helped her repeat last season’s first-team selection. The only libero honored on the first team, Jackson recorded 17 digs in a 3-1 victory against Saint Mary’s Sept. 8 to become Cal Poly’s all-time leader. Six days later she posted 21 digs to claim the Big West career digs mark. On Nov. 8, Jackson became one of only 25 players in Division I history to record 2,000 career digs and one of just 15 athletes to appear in 400 consecutive games. Jackson, who matched a career high with 34 digs against Sacramento State Sept. 15, finished the regular season second among Big West players with 551 total digs and third with a 5.25 digs- per-game figure that ranks as the top mark in Cal Poly single-year history. Jackson will depart the program as a three-time All-Big West honoree, having earned honorable mention status during her 2005 sophomore campaign.
Hayes finished the regular season second among Big West players in assists per game (12.44) and total assists (1,294) – figures that currently rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in Cal Poly single-year history. Her 12.38 career digs-per-game mark is the sixth best figure in the 24-year history of the Big West. Hayes and Atherstone joined Kari DeSoto (1997-99) as the only three-time first team selections in Cal Poly history.
Houston leads all conference players in blocks per game (1.53) and total blocks (161) and is fourth with a .341 hitting percentage. Paced by a career-high 15-block effort in Cal Poly’s Nov. 17 season finale, Houston has recorded seven-plus blocks in a match on 10 occasions this season. Offensively, Houston has hit .375 or better in a match 13 times this year. The Oct. 15 Big West Player of the Week, Houston owns 10 matches of double-digit kill figures.
The reigning Big West Player of the Week, she ranks seventh among Big West players with 3.66 kills per game and finished the regular season third among Mustangs with 0.90 blocks per game.
Olowolafe completed the regular season seventh among Big West players with 1.20 blocks per game, hit .275 and recorded 1.66 kills per game.
“As well as Kylie Atherstone has performed over the past season, our team has never been totally reliant on a specific individual. Kylie’s extraordinary Player of the Year performance could not have happened if not for the balance provided by Ali Waller as an offensive threat, as well as both the leadership and performance we enjoyed from Kristin Jackson and Chelsea Hayes,” Stevenson said. “Jaclyn Houston’s recognition truly reflects the balance we accomplished during the course of the year.”
Stevenson became the second Cal Poly manager to win two Coach of the Year honors, but the first to do so in consecutive seasons. Mike Wilton earned Coach of the Year honors in 1985 and 1989.
“I’m honored to be recognized and even more grateful for having a tremendous staff,” Stevenson said, regarding assistant coaches Mike Johnson and Wes Schneider. “Our team’s success has been well-earned and deserved, but it’s due in part to surrounding myself with the best people who have done the right things, in the right way and at the right times.”