The Cal Poly women’s volleyball team kept its conference championship hopes alive with convincing wins over Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside over the weekend.
The Mustangs (17-5 overall, 10-3 Big West) won Friday on four games over Fullerton and beat the Highlanders in three on Saturday. The wins keep the Mustangs one game behind conference leaders Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.
The win also keeps the Mustangs’ post-season chances intact. The winner of the Big West Conference gets an automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA championship tournament and at-large bids are awarded via selection committee. Though the team’s chances of earning the conference’s automatic bid are slim with just one game remaining in Big West play, an at-large bid is well within grasp.
“We had a goalsetting seminar at the beginning of the season and we wanted to be a tournament-caliber team,” coach Jon Stevenson said. “The team wrote on the board ‘tournament team,’ and that goal could become reality. Our whole season has come down to these last three matches.”
Cal Poly’s lone Big West game remaining is at the University of Pacific on Nov. 12. The Mustangs beat Pacific in three games on Oct. 14. A win against the Tigers locks up a third-place finish in the Big West and would give the Mustangs an 11-3 conference record.
A win at Pacific is crucial if the team wants to make the NCAA tournament, Stevenson said. If the season ended after Cal Poly’s win against Riverside, the Mustangs would be in the NCAA tournament, but a loss either to Pacific or UC Davis (who the Mustangs play on Friday and Nov. 19) would put the team on the bubble, he said.
Senior outside hitter Vanessa Gilliam finished the weekend with a team-high 48 kills, 30 coming in the game against Fullerton. She called the turnaround the team has made incredible and said the team is a legitimate NCAA tournament team.
“We had girls who couldn’t hit the ball over the net at the beginning of the season and now they’re killing it,” she said. “Overall, I think our record shows how strong we are.”
Mustangs defeat Highlanders
Cal Poly beat UC Riverside in three straight games at Mott Gym on Saturday, winning 30-11, 30-26 and 30-27.
The Mustangs dominated every aspect of game one and put games two and three on cruise control. The significantly outmatched Highlanders took advantage of sloppy play by the Mustangs to keep game two interesting, but couldn’t muster enough for a win.
Stevenson had high praise for the play of his team in the third game.
“Offensively, we finished as strong as we have all year,” he said. “If we play that strong on offense, we won’t lose.”
Gilliam pounded 18 kills past the Highlanders’ defense. Riverside didn’t have an answer for Gilliam’s thundering spikes. On one occasion, a Highlander player frantically threw her hands in front of her face to knock a Gilliam spike away in self defense.
Jamie DeKiewiet had a match-high 20 kills for the Highlanders. She also led the match with 16 digs.
While Gilliam’s 18 kills led the Mustangs, Kylie Atherstone and Kayla Mulder had eight apiece for next best. Candace Milton led the defensive effort at the net for Cal Poly with five blocks while Gilliam and Hayes each had four.
Mustangs top Titans
On the strength of 30 Gilliam kills, the Mustangs beat the Titans in four games by scores of 30-23, 27-30, 31-29 and 30-26.
Offensively, the Mustangs struggled as a team, hitting .171 to the Titans’ .177, but Cal Poly’s defense shined. Though it doesn’t show much on the stat sheet, the Mustangs had numerous feats of pure athleticism to keep the ball alive.
Cal Poly had just three more digs and was out-blocked by the Titans, but also had 35 more kill-attempts.
Cal Poly has one home game remaining. The Mustangs will play two on the road this weekend then concludes its regular season at home against UC Davis on Nov. 19.