Cal Poly beach volleyball won the Big West championship over Hawaii on Saturday, Apr. 30 at Swanson Beach Volleyball Complex, and will now head to Gulf Shores, Ala. for the 2022 NCAA National Championship.

The No. 14 Mustangs secured their third straight Big West championship by saying “aloha” to No. 9 Hawaii and sending them back home with a 3-2 loss.

“[This win] is pretty special in the sense that we struggled,” head coach Todd Rogers said. “We did not beat anyone who was ahead of us [all season]. We had to win the Big West, anything less than that, I don’t think we get in [to the NCAA tournament].”

The score, however, makes the match seem closer than it was. Cal Poly was up 2-0, then 3-1, en route to securing the match victory and clinching their spot in the national championship tournament.

Redshirt senior Mariah Whalen and sophomore Piper Naess were at the four spot and dominated their competition to earn the first point for the Mustangs. Set one was taken 21-11, while set two was taken convincingly as well at 21-13.

In the No. 3 spot, freshman Peyton Dueck and graduate Addison Hermstad were up after set one as well. In the 21-14, set-one victory, Dueck showed her dynamic defense — diving all across the sand to keep rallies alive. Her steady partner Hermstad also played her part, as both were seen at the net getting kills.

After the win, Dueck said, “there are no words to describe how excited I am right now.” 

No. 5 redshirt sophomore Josie Ulrich and redshirt junior Vanessa Roscoe were in a tight matchup, but couldn’t win either of their sets. They fell in two sets 21-18, 21-17 to the Rainbow Wahine.

After court five finished, the score was 2-1 in favor of the Mustangs. With the No. 1 and No. 2 squads playing, the home team needed just one win to three-peat and guarantee a spot in Gulf Shores, Ala.

At court one, freshman Ella Connor and senior Tia Miric were up after taking set one 21-14.

On court two, freshman Piper Ferch and redshirt junior Jayelin Lombard were trailing after narrowly losing their first set 21-19. 

Back on court one, All-American duo Connor and Miric continued to battle back and forth in set two against Hawaii’s Brooke Van Sickle and Kaylee Glagua. In this match, Connor made several big-time blocks at the net. 

Miric thrived off the energy of her partner and the crowd. After big rallies, Miric turned to the crow and waved her arms to get the hometown fans to cheer louder.

The score was tied 21-21. A Hawaii win would push set three, while a Mustang win would mean a team victory and the championship. 

After a long rally, Connor sent her attempt long over the backline, giving Hawaii the 22-21 lead. 

The Mustangs tied it back up the next point. At 22-22, Miric received the serve, Connor set her up at the net and Miric sent a cross-court shot out of Hawaii’s reach to put Cal Poly up 23-22.

At the next point, a Connor block dropped short in front of her and the net, making it 23-23. However, the tie didn’t last long as Hawaii served the ball into the net for the very next point. Once again, the Mustangs were one point away from victory at 24-23. 

Miric was up to serve again. She sent the ball over the net and Hawaii set up to send an attack over Connor’s block to the backline. However, Kaylee Glagua’s attack went long.

The Cal Poly team rushed the court and hugged Connor and Miric in celebration, as the Mustangs had just clinched back-to-back-to-back Big West titles.

“It is the most incredible way to end my career at Cal Poly,” Miric said. “It’s incredible to see all the younger girls grow throughout the season and our mentality as a team has been to get better and better every weekend.”

On court two, Ferch and Lombard still had to finish competition. After the matchup was already decided, they finished and Hawaii won 21-19, 12-21, 15-13.

After the court two finish, the Mustangs were honored with the Big West trophy presentation.

Despite the huge victory, the season isn’t finished yet. Cal Poly is one of 16 teams that will be playing in the national championship next week. The results on the other conference winners and last selections have yet to be released, but the Mustangs have a guaranteed spot in the tournament. 

“Our goal from the beginning was to win a national championship,” Miric said.

The first round of the championships will begin on Wednesday, May 4 at Gulf Beach Place in Gulf Shores, Ala. The eight teams that advance from the first round will compete in a double-elimination tournament that starts on Friday, May 6.