Brennan Angel

With a dominating performance Friday night in front of 1,427 fans in Mott Gym, the Cal Poly volleyball team clinched its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000.

The Mustangs swept visiting Northridge 30-15, 30-20, 30-14 to secure at least a share of their first conference title since taking the Pacific Coast Athletic Association crown in 1984. No. 17 Cal Poly (21-5, 13-1) then swept Pacific on Saturday night to wrap up their first outright Big West Conference championship.

“It’s so sweet to be here,” second-year Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson said. “I was so devastated when we didn’t make (the tournament) last year, but I expected we would do much better this time around. We belong in the tournament.”

In the first match against Northridge, Cal Poly quickly jumped out in front with a 5-1 lead and was in complete control of the match, never allowing Northridge to trail closer than four points behind.

The second match proved to be the most challenging for the Mustangs, who tied with Northridge three times and gave up a momentary lead to the Matadors early in the match.

However, after the third tie of the game at 8-8, the Mustangs rapidly took back the lead and the momentum of the match with runs of 12-6 and 10-4 to finish out the second match, 30-20. The Matadors could only muster a two-point lead early on in the match when the score was 8-6.

The third match proved to be the most dominating for the Mustangs, who took a 3-0 lead and never let Northridge trail any closer, pulling away and eventually securing a comfortable 20-10 lead.

The Mustangs went on a 10-2 run to finish the match 30-14.

Cal Poly was 19-6 overall and third at 10-4 in the Big West last year, but was controversially not selected for the NCAA Tournament. The Big West sent six teams to the tournament in 2003 and 2004, but only two in 2005.

In the wake of a completely dominant performance, the Mustangs celebrated with family members, friends and fans on the court.

“I didn’t think I would be this excited,” Cal Poly junior setter Chelsea Hayes said. “After not making it last year, this is so awesome and I am so proud to be a part of this team.”

Having entered the game as the conference leader in assists, Hayes had 36 assists against the Matadors. Other individual leaders for the Mustangs in Friday’s match included Kylie Atherstone (12 kills) and Alicia Waller (11 kills, three aces).

“We really went out there with a strong performance and played very consistently,” said Cal Poly junior libero Kristin Jackson, who had a match-high 11 digs.

Commenting on the Mustangs’ overall performance, Stevenson said that the improbably decisive victory against Northridge was an unexpected – though pleasant – surprise.

No one had more than six kills for Northridge (15-10, 6-6).

“They (Mustangs) made it look so easy to beat a team of that caliber,” Stevenson said. “I was expecting a much more difficult match, but I’ll gladly take this.”

In addition, Stevenson also said that the victory for the Mustangs will make a huge impression on the NCAA selection committee in determining a playoff seed.

In the Nov. 6 RichKern.com Pablo Rankings, which simulate the secret Ratings Percentage Index formula used by the selection committee to determine playoff teams, Cal Poly is No. 12 and may rise this week.

“We’re hoping to host in the playoffs, and when they (selection committee) see a match like this, it will help us out quite a bit,” Stevenson said.

Nevertheless, with Friday’s victory against Northridge, the Mustangs have punched their playoff ticket.

“It was pretty upsetting that we couldn’t make the playoffs last year,” Jackson said. “But this year we have secured a trip to the tournament and a conference title, and no one can take that away from us.”

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