Cal Poly volleyball won a critical back-and-forth matchup with the visiting University of Hawaii in four sets (25-22, 31-33, 25-21, 25-19) inside a sold-out Mott Athletics Center on Saturday, Oct. 15.
The Mustangs (10-8, 7-1 Big West) dominated defensively, doubling the block output of the Rainbow Wāhine (10-6, 7-1 Big West).
The first set mainly consisted of the two sides trading points, a sign of the tightly-contested game to come.
Hawaii threatened to pull away in set one with a 4-0 run with the score sitting at 15-12, but with the score 22-19 in favor of the Rainbow Wahine, Cal Poly erupted for a six-point run to win the set at 25-22.
When the score was tied at 22 in the first set, Hawaii thought they had taken a crucial point to stop what was then a 3-0 run. However, head coach Caroline Walters thought otherwise, and successfully challenged a net infraction to flip the advantage back to Cal Poly
“It’s our first year with the challenge system at home, only our second year of using it in general,” Walters said. “There is definitely an element to learning when you want to use one when you don’t maybe want to use one, and I think I’m in a good place now.”
Set two was another back-and-forth affair, and after the Mustangs were down 19-16, they rattled off four unanswered, highlighted by an ace by senior opposite-side hitter Maia Dvoracek.
Cal Poly had a chance to win the second set at 24-23, but the Rainbow Wāhine defended the service from redshirt freshman setter Emme Bullis and forced a win-by-two scenario.
After some hard-fought points, Hawaii’s Kate Lang found a service ace at 32-31 to take the second set and knot it up at 1-1.
After intermission, Cal Poly and Hawaii traded runs of two and three between each other highlighted by emphatic kills from the trio of sophomore outside hitter Tommi Stockham, redshirt freshman Lizzy Markovska and Dvoracek.
Dvoracek, who had six kills in the third set, served the 5-0 run that Cal Poly used to close the set. A kill from Lizzy Markovska and a pair of blocks from Emme Bullis and senior middle blocker Meredith Phillips was capped off by an ace from Dvoracek to win the set 25-21 and take a 2-1 advantage in the match.
“How our block is set up, the defense around us sets up [and] if we aren’t in the right spot the play is completely broken,” Phillips said. “We work on blocking every single day, Jason is our defensive coach and he really gets on us, he’s hard on us and it’s not easy.”
Set four had a different tone, as instead of constant point trading, there were more pronounced runs of scoring for both sides. Cal Poly got out to a 5-1 lead to open the set, before Hawaii responded with a 3-0 run to make it 5-4.
The Mustangs then jumped ahead with the largest scoring swing of the night with a 9-2 run, taking a commanding 14-6 lead.
Looking to pull away after the TV timeout, the scoring ran dry for Cal Poly and Hawaii responded with their own 8-1 scoring run to make it just a 17-16 advantage for the home side.
Cal Poly regrouped and only dropped three more points on the way to a victory that was capped off by a Dvoracek block that set off the Mott faithful and a storming of the court by the Mustangs.
“There is nothing like it, there’s a reason we call it Mott Magic,” Dvoracek said. “Just feeling the crowd, having the band, having all the support, all the families, all the people we love in the stands cheering us on, it makes playing and makes being here a part of this program so special.”
With the win, Cal Poly moved into a three-team tie for first place in the Big West with Hawaii and UC Santa Barbara, as all three teams have conference records of 7-1.
The Mustangs will visit the Tritons of UC San Diego on Friday, Oct. 21. at 7 p.m. inside the Liontree Arena.