When senior opposite Torrey Van Winden was taken out of Cal Poly Volleyball’s starting lineup at the end of the 2018 season, left behind in her place was a vital gap and big shoes to fill. However, junior outside hitter Maia Dvoracek took the challenge head-on, making a name for herself in the process.

“None of us even knew what [Dvoracek] could do, because — I mean, I think she’d admit and all of us as coaches right now would admit — we probably didn’t expect her to be having quite the impact that she is,” head coach Caroline Walters said. 

Dvoracek’s path to the head of Cal Poly’s offense began last season in the midst of a record-breaking year for the program. The Mustangs won back-to-back Big West titles after a 15-1 conference record in route to their second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.

As an essential component to the success of the Mustangs’ 2018 season, Van Winden was the fifth player in program history to be named the Big West Player of the Year. The standout player was also named to the First Team All-Big West and the Pacific North AVCA All-Region Team. As a junior, Van Winden led the Big West in hitting percentage and finished the season with an average 5.07 kills per set, the second highest total for a single season in program history.

However, a series of concussions put the offensive powerhouse out of play indefinitely on a day-to-day status as the 2018 season came to an end. Dvoracek moved into the opposite starting position this season as a result.

Maia Dvoracek jumps for a kill during the Mustangs’ sweep over UC Riverside on Oct. 4. Kyle Calzia | Mustang News
Maia Dvoracek jumps for a kill during the Mustangs’ sweep over UC Riverside on Oct. 4. Kyle Calzia | Mustang News

Dvoracek said she always wanted to be on the court during the Mustangs’ 2018 season. However, she said she also recognized that “the team was winning when [Van Winden] was here, and that’s what it was.”

“It was a little hard for me at the beginning, just feeling as though I got [the starting position] by default rather than earning it, because Torrey is such an amazing player and I would never want to take that away from her,” Dvoracek said. 

While Dvoracek admitted to having mixed feelings toward her move into the starting position, Walters noted the impact Dvoracek had on Van Winden’s successful career.

“I mean, [Van Winden] is the first to admit in the last two years that [Dvoracek] has been the one that has been pushing her the hardest in the gym,” Walters said. 

Maia Dvoracek celebrates a point with teammates during the Mustangs sweep over University of Hawai’i on Oct. 11. Diego Rivera | Mustang News
Maia Dvoracek celebrates a point with teammates during the Mustangs sweep over University of Hawai’i on Oct. 11. Diego Rivera | Mustang News

As a freshman at Cal Poly, Dvoracek played in 13 sets and finished the season with 10 kills. Dvoracek’s time on the court remained limited during her sophomore year as she appeared in 17 sets and started in just two matches. Nevertheless, Dvoracek produced a career-high eight kills and four digs in one of her two starts against the University of San Diego in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

It is safe to say that Dvoracek has broken all personal records since her second start in a Mustangs’ jersey. This season, the junior outside hitter has already collected three of the last four Big West Player of the Week awards as the Mustangs seek their third consecutive Big West title.

Dvoracek has taken control of the Mustang offense and currently ranks 7th in the Big West Conference in kills per set, averaging 3.77 kills.

“I think [Dvoracek] is fearless,” Walters said. “She just sees ball and goes after it, both attacking and defensively. To watch her have that same fearless attitude defensively and just keep balls off the ground is only helping us.”

Dvoracek also ranks second in service aces per set in Division I with 45 total service aces, more than any Mustang player had in the 2018 season. Dvoracek played an integral role in extending the Mustangs’ home winning streak to 28 matches by logging 104 kills, 55 digs and 13 blocks while playing at home this season.

“[Dvoracek] is very aggressive with her swings, but also very smart,” sophomore setter Avalon DeNecochea said. “She’s had a huge impact just [by] being a huge attacker up there.”

Dvoracek has recorded 3.84 kills per set with 261 total kills for the season so far, and the results are paying off for the Mustangs.

Cal Poly sits at the top of the Big West standings with a perfect 6-0 record after the team swept conference rival and No. 19 University of Hawai’i 3-0 on Oct. 11. The Mustangs swept five of the six Big West opponents they have faced and are the only undefeated team remaining in the conference.

While Dvoracek has impressively posted a match-high in kills in every single conference victory so far, the athlete remains humble among all her success. Dvoracek credited her current teammates for taking “bits and pieces” of what the previous players left behind.

Maia Dvoracek ranks second amongst all Big West Conference players in total kills (261) so far this season. Diego Rivera | Mustang News

“It’s been a group effort, really,” Dvoracek said. “Mika Dickson had a huge hole to fill with [Katherine Brouker] leaving. Lea Unger has been playing unreal. [Jessica McRoskey] is coming back from a knee surgery and had an awesome game at UC Irvine. Avalon is always doing well.” 

Dvoracek said she does not have any personal goals for the season and described the culture of Cal Poly Volleyball as “always being about the team and about the program.” And while Dvoracek is undoubtedly having a breakout season, she said the team remains focused on its family culture and “one game at a time” attitude.

“Our end goal is just to win a lot of volleyball games,” Dvoracek said. “Wins and losses come and points come and go, but if we’re getting better and we’re playing the best by December, then that’s all we can ask for.”

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