Lauren Rabaino

Although Cal Poly has not officially announced its volleyball schedule, other universities have released theirs, giving the Mustangs an early idea of where they stand.

The tentative slate is strong, Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson said, featuring home matches against Stanford and Nebraska.

“Stanford and Nebraska are two of the best programs in the country and have been for 26 years of NCAA volleyball,” he said. “Our strategy is to be the best in the nation you have to play the best.”

The Mustangs, who finished last season ranked 11th by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, open the season against Michigan State at the Oklahoma Invitational on Aug. 29. The following weekend, they’ll host the Cal Poly Invitational, when they’ll take on Tulane and Nebraska on Sept. 5.

The latter match, Stevenson explained, has been one he and Nebraska head coach John Cook have planned for three years.

“People don’t think much of Lincoln, Nebraska,” Stevenson said. “But they do volleyball right there.”

Nebraska, which went 30-2 last year and finished ranked fifth by the AVCA, swept the Mustangs in 2007 – 30-20, 30-19, 30-18.

“This will be the biggest match in the history of Cal Poly volleyball in terms of playing a powerhouse at home,” Stevenson said.

In the weekend following the Nebraska showdown, Cal Poly will face off against Notre Dame, Minnesota and Cal at the Minnesota Diet Coke Classic from Sept. 12 through Sept. 14.

The difficulty of that trip may pale in comparison to the challenge posed Sept. 20, when the Mustangs will host second-ranked Stanford, which Stevenson called a “perennial powerhouse.”

Despite the obstacles presented by senior Cardinal Olympians Foluke Akinradewo and Cynthia Barboza, Cal Poly senior opposite Kylie Atherstone, the two-time reigning Big West Conference Player of the Year, seems undaunted.

“I think we’re going to compete with them very well, especially if we get a good home crowd,” she said.

In any event, Atherstone will be key to the chances of the two-time defending Big West champion Mustangs.

“She needs to be a team leader,” Stevenson said. “She needs to be great and selfless and play for the team.”

Atherstone, who can become just the second three-time player of the year in Big West annals, seems ready to finish her college career in style.

“You can’t have a leader – it’s how well the team works together,” she said. “One person can’t win a game.”

Stevenson also noted senior outside hitter Ali Waller as an emerging star.

“She is technically as good as any player in the country,” he said. “Volleyball is a game of power and she’s developing more power as she goes.”

All the other Big West teams have announced their schedules, featuring September, October and November contests with Cal Poly.

Long before that, though, the Mustangs will begin to get a taste of what the rest of the country has to offer.

“By playing these teams around the country, we take advantage of the fact that we’re not in school,” Stevenson said, stressing the importance such out-of-state tests in elevating the national ranking.

Brian Thurmond, Cal Poly Athletics’ director of media relations, said an official schedule will formally be announced toward the end of July.

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