The team celebrates their win over Long Beach State. Credit: Kayla Stuart | Mustang News, 2022

Cal Poly volleyball opened up Big West play with a pair of victories over Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton on Friday, Sept. 23 and Saturday, Sept. 24 inside Mott Athletics Center.

The Mustangs (5-7, 2-0 Big West) have turned around a slow start to the season, as they have now won five straight after beginning the year 0-7. They took down the Beach (6-4, 1-1 Big West) in four sets, while they swept the Titans (7-3, 1-1 Big West) to cap off the weekend.

Friday vs. Long Beach State

Cal Poly began Big West play in their first home game of the season with a four-set victory over Long Beach State.

The Mustangs earned a hard-fought victory over the Beach by scores of 25-20, 16-25, 25-23, 25-20. 

Video by Nate Mills

The opening set began as a back-and-forth affair. The tide then started to shift in favor of Cal Poly, as they scored five consecutive points to grab a 12-9 lead. Both teams continued trading multi-point streaks, but Cal Poly pulled ahead 19-15. This exchange widened the gap enough for the Mustangs to gain momentum and take the first set, 25-20.

Set two was dominated by the Beach early, as they quickly jumped out to a 6-2 lead. The Mustangs responded with a run of their own, evening the score at 6-6. Long Beach answered back with five consecutive points to lead 11-6. Even after a timeout from Cal Poly, Long Beach controlled the tempo and took the set, 25-16.

In a tightly contested third set, both teams battled to take the set lead and momentum of the match. Cal Poly jumped to a 13-9 lead before Long Beach stormed back, taking seven of the next eight points, leading 16-14. From then on, the set was neck-and-neck, with each team trading blows. 

The Mustangs, though, gained a 24-22 lead after two consecutive kills by redshirt sophomore outside hitter Tommi Stockham and an ace by redshirt freshman setter Emme Bullis. Long Beach earned back a point to threaten the Mustang lead. Senior right-side hitter Maia Dvoracek, though, didn’t want to waste any time and ended the third set with an emphatic spike and a 25-23 win.

Cal Poly started strong in the fourth set, jumping to an early 5-0 lead. The majority of the set was back and forth until the Beach shrunk the Mustang lead to 19-18 before Cal Poly rallied off four straight points for a 23-18 advantage. The Mustangs rode this streak to a 25-20 set victory. 

This game marked Dvoracek’s first game back in Mott in 1,079 days, as the former All-American missed the 2021 season with a knee injury, and the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19. 

“It means the world to me, there’s no other place in the States I’d rather play than in Mott Gym,” Dvoracek said.

The Mustangs were led by Stockham and Dvoracek with 19 and 16 kills, respectively. 

Long Beach held the upper hand in aces, with 12 compared to seven from Cal Poly. The Mustangs carved out 60 digs, compared to 45 by the Beach.

“We’re gonna go after it from the service line and against physical teams like Long Beach, you have to get them off the net to have a chance defensively,” head coach Caroline Walters said.

Saturday vs. Cal State Fullerton

The Mustangs continued to roll on Saturday by dominating the Titans in straight sets (25-14, 25-19, 25-19).

The first set began as a closely contested affair with the Mustangs trailing 8-7 early on. A nine-point stretch by Cal Poly off serves by redshirt freshman Lizzy Markovska forced Fullerton into using both of their timeouts with a 16-8 Mustang lead. The Titans tried to fight back, but momentum was in favor of Cal Poly and they took the first set, 25-14.

In the second set, it was again a tight contest between the two squads. The teams traded blows until a strong stretch by Cal Poly led to a 20-15 lead. The Mustangs rode this stretch and ended the set with a 25-19 win. 

The third set began similar to the first with a close start before a strong Cal Poly run. A string of 10 consecutive points off serves by Stockham suddenly led to a 12-2 lead for the Mustangs. Fullerton had a run of their own, scoring seven straight in response to keep the game close at 12-9. Both teams fought back and forth to a 21-18 lead for Cal Poly. From there, the Mustangs rattled off three consecutive points and eventually captured the 25-19 victory. 

Saturday marked Markovska’s first start in front of the home crowd after a strong performance off the bench on Friday. 

“[It was] incredible – I almost started crying my eyes out just standing in the line,” Markovska said. “That was a surreal moment that I wish I could relive forever. I’ve been waiting for that moment.”

Coach Walters mentioned postgame that the team had placed their emphasis on serve receives on Saturday.

“We have to put a precedent on our ability to pass the ball and Lizzy passes the ball really well for us,” coach Walters said. “She’s played six rotations before for us, so we trust her to do that”

Cal Poly won the offensive battle on the night, outhitting Fullerton .314 to .163, with Dvoracek and Stockham leading the team with 15 and 13 kills, respectively.

Stockham also led the team in digs with 13, with Dvoracek and Markovska adding 11 apiece.

The Mustangs will be back on the road to face UC Santa Barbara for their next game on Friday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. inside the Thunderdome.