Cal Poly beach volleyball had another historic season in 2022, winning their third consecutive Big West Championship and automatically qualifying for the NCAA Beach Volleyball National Championship tournament.
The Mustangs were the No. 3 seed going into the conference tournament on Apr. 29 and 30 that took place at Swanson Beach Volleyball Complex. Despite being third in the Big West, the team won four straight matches, upsetting No. 2 seed Long Beach State and No. 1 seed University of Hawaii twice on their way to the title.
Entering this season, the Mustangs were ranked No. 8 in the nation following a national championship appearance last season. However, a significant portion of the team looked different than those who went to Gulf Shores, Ala. for the 2021 national championship tournament.
Eight players from the 2021 team were gone and five new players – three true freshmen, a sophomore transfer and a grad student – had entered.
On the court, three-time All-American Tia Miric played out her final season as part of the No. 1 duo alongside freshman Ella Connor. Connor earned All-American honors and won Big West Freshman of the Year in 2022.
The No. 2 duo included redshirt junior Jayelin Lombard and freshman Piper Ferch. The two were 22-18 together and will both be returning for the 2023 season.
The consistent No. 3 duo was also a standout team, made up of graduate Addison Hermstad and freshman Peyton Dueck. Hermstad transferred to Cal Poly from Tulane while Dueck made the transition from the indoor volleyball team in the fall to the beach team in the spring.
The duo was a team-best 21-6 on the season, earning a Top Flight award, an award given to the best pairings in the nation.
The No. 4 and No. 5 duos were switched around throughout the season, but they were relatively set by the championship tournaments. Sophomore Piper Naess and redshirt senior Mariah Whalen played at the fours while redshirt sophomore Josie Ulrich and redshirt junior Vanessa Roscoe played on court five.
Regardless of who was playing, Hermstad spoke to the importance of relying on teammates in beach volleyball.
“It is so difficult to play this sport without ultimate trust [in your partner], the four other pairs playing and even the girls that are not in the lineup,” Hermstad said.
The team started the season struggling. After their first 10 games, they were 3-7, losing to the University of Tampa, No. 3 Florida State, No. 6 Texas Christian (TCU), No. 8 Stanford, No. 7 Grand Canyon University, No. 2 UCLA and No. 6 Loyola Marymount (LMU).
This theme of losing to higher-ranked opponents carried throughout the season.
“We did not beat anyone who was ahead of us [all season],” head coach Todd Rogers said. “We have to win the Big West, anything less than that, I don’t think we get in [to the NCAA tournament].”
Nearly half of the opponents the team faced all season were ranked, and 15 of their matches were against top 10 teams in the nation.
Near the end of the season, Cal Poly hosted the Center of Effort Challenge against No. 1 USC, No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 Florida State and No. 6 LMU. The team went 0-4 on the weekend.
Two weekends later, the Mustangs hosted the Big West Conference Tournament on the same courts. In the opener against CSU Northridge, Cal Poly won 5-0, sweeping every court. Next, they faced Long Beach State.
After the Beach took a 2-1 lead, Cal Poly had their backs against the wall. However, Dueck and Hermstad secured a win and Whalen and Naess closed it out to advance.
Whalen, a redshirt senior that has suffered multiple injuries throughout her career, wrote a letter to the sport of volleyball after Cal Poly’s season ended.
“Even though I haven’t yet played a full season, there have been numerous reasons to stop,” Whalen wrote. “There are more reasons to be grateful for what [volleyball has] brought me during those times. [Volleyball has] introduced me to my closest friends, my greatest teachers, my most inspirational heroes and the most incredible athletes.”
The third matchup of day one of the tournament was the most dramatic as the Mustangs faced off against Hawaii.
Cal Poly found themselves in a similar situation, going down 2-1 early to the Rainbow Wahine. After Dueck and Hermstad collected their third win of the day, the No. 2 duo of Ferch and Lombard came up clutch with a win that secured a spot in the championship.
Early the next morning, Hawaii won the semifinals game to set up a rematch in the Big West championship game.
Cal Poly came out firing, as Naess and Whalen along with Dueck and Hermstad won to put Cal Poly up 2-0.
After court five fell to make it 2-1, attention turned to the No. 1 duo of Connor and Miric, who had won their first set.
The score was tied 21-21 in the second set. A Hawaii win would lead to a third set, while a Mustang win would mean a team victory and a third-straight Big West championship.
With the winner needing to win by two points, there was some back-and-forth play that led to the score being tied again at 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 Glagau’s attack went long, giving the point to Cal Poly.
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.”