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The Cal Poly volleyball team dropped a four-set decision to Cal State Fullerton on Saturday in Mott Athletics Center.

Evan Morter

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The Cal Poly volleyball team ended its home season on a somber note Saturday night with a loss to Cal State Fullerton. The Mustangs lost one of their key players to injury and dropped the match 3-1, leaving them in sixth place in the Big West Conference standings with two matches remaining on the schedule.

Cal Poly began the match with a 25-19 win in the first set, but dropped the next three. In the fourth set, Chelsea Hardin’s lower leg injury hurt the team’s chances as they fell 25-19 in that final set.

“When Chelsea went down, we never really recovered,” head coach Sam Crosson said. “It was like the wheels came off and then the passing got a little shaky.”

Hardin came into the match with the second-best kill-per-set ratio on the team (2.94) and had 12 kills before the injury. The Mustangs also had minor lapses in focus, which proved to be costly, Megan McConnell, who leads the team in kills, said.

“I think we were really focused in the first set and then let up a bit,” she said. “This was the last match for the seniors, and sometimes emotions get the best of you.”

The Mustangs got off to a quick start led by McConnell and her five kills to earn the win in the first set. Cal State Fullerton then fought back to win two tightly contested sets, 25-22 in the second and 25-23 in the third.

In the fourth, Hardin’s injury had an evident impact on the team as the Mustangs quickly found themselves trailing 21-9 and fought back until a 25-19 scoreline sealed their fate.

“(After Hardin’s injury), I think we were a little rattled, but came back and made a good run in the end,” McConnell said. “I’m really proud of our effort in the end.”

Cal Poly now will look ahead to its final two games of the season against UC Irvine on Friday and Long Beach State on Saturday.

“These are two teams we haven’t seen since the first week of the conference, so a lot has changed in 10 weeks,” Crosson said. “I think both Long Beach and Irvine are playing better now than the first time we saw them.”

Long Beach (10-5) is currently in fourth place and UC Irvine (5-10) is currently tied for sixth with Cal Poly. Two wins for the Mustangs could move them into sole possession of fifth in the conference.

“We’re fighting to finish as high as we can in the conference,” Crosson said. “It’s gut-check time. It’s time to figure out whether we’re going to go down there and compete and fight to win, or whether or not we’re satisfied with where we are right now.”

The next two matches will be the last two games played by the seniors in a Cal Poly uniform, and McConnell said it’s going to be an emotional ending.

“It’s been a long five years, and this is my home away from home, so it’s going to be hard to move on,” McConnell said. “(I’m going to miss) the girls. It gets me emotional. They’re amazing, and I’m going to miss them a lot.”

Although a strong core of seniors are departing, a new group of five incoming freshman recently signed to join the team next year.

“We think we’ve got some good, skillful and athletic recruits coming in,” Crosson said. “It’s going to cause some change, and change is always uncomfortable, but once you get through it, I think you’re always going to change for the better.”

The Mustangs struggled to remain consistent this season, but Crosson has high hopes for next year.

“In the big perspective, we’re going in the right direction, and we’re excited about where we’re going,” Crosson said. “We have a program goal, and that is to win the conference.”

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