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The Cal Poly volleyball team (7-10, 2-5 Big West Conference) dropped the second match of its two-game homestand Saturday evening at Mott Athletics Center, losing to Long Beach State 3-1.
The 49ers, who came into the match undefeated in conference play, were not untested, as the Mustangs came out with a gritty first-set win and kept things tight until late in the fourth set.
“Obviously it didn’t end in our favor, but there were some real positives and I think it was a pretty good performance overall,” head coach Sam Crosson said.
The Mustangs stopped Long Beach State’s potent attack from any big leads in the first set and received key blocks to position themselves for the set win. After pulling even at 26-26 on a kill by freshman middle back Caihla Petiprin, the Mustangs were able to force two attacking errors on the 49ers to clinch the set.
Long Beach State began to get into a rhythm in the second set, however, leading almost all the way and coming into form defensively.
The Mustangs struggled to respond to big plays as the 49ers’ sizable front wall put the Mustangs on their heels both offensively and defensively.
“I definitely think our communication was different in the second,” junior libero Nicole Kessler said. “We weren’t talking as much, we weren’t getting as excited. They went on a couple runs and that threw us off a bit.”
Long Beach State continued its strong performance in the third set, winning by 10 points.
In the fourth set, Cal Poly came out of the break with more energy and kept the 49ers from opening the kind of lead they were able to in the third.
“I try and tell the team that each set is a new game,” Crosson said. “It doesn’t matter whether we got beat by a ton last set or just barely let it get away, it’s still going to feel the same. So I told them forget about last set, forget about next set, just focus on this one.”
However, unforced errors, as well as Long Beach State’s impressive blocking, continued to be the story late in the fourth, as the Mustangs’ late rally was stifled and the 49ers were able to take the set, and the match, with a 25-20 win.
“They’re a big team and a great team,” sophomore middle blocker Taylor Gruenewald said. “They’ve got a fast middle and a big block up there, and all I was trying to do was get up there and swing as hard as I could. Overall, though, I think we proved it’s someone we can definitely compete with.”
The match was a big test for Cal Poly, a team still searching for an identity.
“Tempo kind of defines our team,” Gruenewald said. “We run our offense really fast and that throws off the other team’s blockers, but we need to figure out how to hit the ball harder. Overall, though I think we’re improving.”
The Mustangs look ahead to what promises to be another tough match as the team travels to Hawai’i on Friday.
“We need to figure out how to be more consistent,” Kessler said. “I think on teams like this, where we’re still learning where we stand, going against good teams like tonight can help show ourselves that we can compete at a high level.”