Ryan Chartrand

Are all kills created equal? If you’ve seen Cal Poly outside hitter Kylie Atherstone play, the answer is obvious.

It all starts as an opposing player tries to smash the ball past the Cal Poly volleyball team’s defense. Then libero Kristin Jackson will effortlessly dig the ball to the front line where setter Chelsea Hayes places a perfect pass into the air on the left side of the net.

Atherstone takes a step and leaps into the air, her left arm cocked behind her. She holds the pose for a moment, her body seemingly suspended in the air like a character in a fight scene of some Jet Li flick. Then everything speeds up – her left arm powers forward in the blink of an eye and, before she lands on the ground, a collective, “Ohhh,” bellows from the crowd.

The “Ohhh” comes as an opposing player couldn’t react in time and gets pounded by Atherstone’s ball, a cruise missile right on target.

Last week Atherstone became the first sophomore in the Big West Conference to earn Player of the Year honors since Long Beach State’s Misty May won her first of three in 1996 – the same Misty May who won a beach volleyball gold medal at the 2004 Olympics.

To add to the super-sophomore’s season feats, Atherstone made a cameo appearance in Sports Illustrated under the “Scorecard” section Nov. 20. Not too bad for a player with two years of eligibility to go.

If you asked Atherstone what the individual accolades mean to her, she would certainly downplay the significance, because all she’s thinking about right now is the NCAA Tournament.

The Mustangs drew a No. 15 seed in the 64-team tournament – only the top 16 teams are awarded seeds – and will host Michigan at 8 p.m. Friday in Mott Gym.

Step back and think about that for a second. California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo, the Central Coast school with a well-known engineering program and a little-known athletic tradition, will host an NCAA Division I Tournament contest this weekend.

This is easily the biggest event hosted by Cal Poly in years, and I don’t have to tell you where I’ll be when the match begins Friday night.

Everybody who considers themselves a Cal Poly sports fan should be at Mott Gym this weekend. Be you a Mustang Maniac, an aerospace engineer, a Musty the Mustang wannabe, a fifth-year senior or a freshman, you should don the green and gold and prepare for an epic clash. Whether you like volleyball or don’t, it will be an event to see.

The Mustangs have made it look easy over the last two months. Since Sept. 19, the squad is 15-1 and has won its last five.

In those 16 matches, the Mustangs have only lost eight of the 55 games they’ve played. However, the Mustangs will be put to the test this weekend.

Despite the No. 15 seed, Cal Poly has a tough group of teams in its pod. Assuming Cal Poly defeats Michigan, waiting in the second round for the Mustangs would be either Cal or LSU. Cal Poly is ranked No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association/College Sports TV poll, Cal is No. 15 and LSU is No. 16.

This weekend will certainly be a challenge for the Mustangs, but for a team with numerous wins against top-25 caliber teams, it’s possible we could see Cal Poly in the round of 16.

This weekend is just the beginning. The road to an NCAA title ends Dec. 16 in Lincoln, Neb.

Can Cal Poly put together a championship run? I’ll start writing the screenplay if they do.

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