With one game left on the Cal Poly women’s volleyball schedule, the team is forced to play the waiting game. Three consecutive wins cemented the team the third place spot in the Big West, but they are still out of reach of conference leader Cal State Fullerton and, consequently, without an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
However, that has not diminished the hopes of those on the team, especially head coach Jon Stevenson.
“We are past the 20-win mark and if we can win again, I really feel good about our chances of getting an at-large berth,” Stevenson said.
To this point the Mustangs have earned a record of 21-7, with four defeats coming in matches that went the full five games and a conference record of 11-4.
The team’s belief that they deserve a place in the field of 64 is based on self-confidence, built through a difficult season and big wins.
The season started on a high note with a 3-2 victory over Arizona, a team that is now ranked No. 20 in the country.
The team even battled through senior Dominique Olowolafe’s broken finger that she suffered against Notre Dame. They lost three straight games without their primary offensive weapon.
However, the team rebounded following a loss to Nebraska, a top-10 opponent, and the team went undefeated over 10 games in September without Olowolafe.
“It was a challenge, it means a lot to be on the court,” Olowolafe said. “But it allowed me to see how much I really love volleyball.”
Overall, Olowolafe said the team’s best days are ahead and they are ready to shine under the bright lights of the NCAA tournament.
“We need a chance to show everyone what we’re capable of,” Olowolafe said. “We have something special.”
In her absence, highly recruited freshman Kristina Graven stepped up to fill the void. Graven leads the team with 439 kills, nearly four per set, earning a Big West Women’s Volleyball Player of the Week Award in September after only three weeks of play.
“It’s been a really cool opportunity, I’ve had a great time,” Graven said. “But there’s no way I could do what I’ve been able to do without (Alison) Mort’s passing, Sarah (Cawrse’s) setting, ‘D’s blocking and Catie (Smith’s) hitting. It’s really a team effort.”
Libero Alison Mort, who leads the team with 554 digs, accompanies Olowolafe as the only other Mustang senior leaving the squad when the season ends. The two were honored and thanked for their four years of hard work and dedication before the Mustangs’ victory over UC Davis on Saturday night.
“It didn’t really hit me that it was going to be my last night playing in Mott until they started to introduce ‘D’ and I to recognize us before the match,” Mort said. “It was sad, but I felt really excited and thankful that I got to spend my last four years here and make so many amazing memories.”
Olowolafe and Mort are the only Mustangs with NCAA tournament experience due to a Sweet 16 trip as freshman and they look forward to leading their team back as seniors.
The team has now returned to full strength with sophomore Holly Franks making her way back onto the court after a nagging injury. The quintet of Olowolafe, Franks, Graven, Jennifer Keddy and Smith will pose a unique challenge for any opponent over the rest of the season. All have shown their capabilities at the net, posting double digit kills on multiple occasions.
Keddy also earned the team’s second Big West Women’s Volleyball Player of the Week award this week as she helped the Mustangs win both of their matches, recording 27 total kills. Opponents have held her to less than 10 kills only three times this season.
The Mustangs finish the regular season against UC Riverside, which is winless in the Big West, with a goal of taking the match in straight games. The team then has eight days in limbo, practicing and staying driven for a post-season they can only hope awaits.
For now, Olowolafe maintains a single-minded focus, postponing the emotions that will surely follow the conclusion of the season.
“I haven’t accepted the fact that next quarter I’ll be a regular student, without workouts and volleyball,” Olowolafe said. “But I don’t think it’s the end of our season by a long shot.”