After falling to UC Santa Barbara in five sets earlier this season, the Mustangs defeated the Gauchos in five sets Saturday. – Ryan Sidarto MD

With the Cal Poly volleyball team down two sets to one and their playoff hopes on the line, the Mustangs rallied around senior Dominique Olowolafe in the middle of the court.

“She told us we had nothing to lose,” outside hitter Kristina Graven said.

From that point on, the Cal Poly women’s volleyball team (19-7, 9-4 Big West) won 40 of the final 67 points to cool off the Gauchos (14-12, 8-5), winners of five straight, in a five-set comeback win at UC Santa Barbara.

Despite Cal Poly winning the final two sets, the Gauchos controlled the beginning of the match. The Mustangs did not lead at any point until Graven slammed home a kill to put the team up 11-10 in the second set, starting a back-and-forth game with no team asserting control.

At game point with Cal Poly in jeopardy of going down 2-0, sophomore Jennifer Keddy hit the ball out of bounds, but a Gaucho finger tip touched the ball, giving the Mustangs the point. A Santa Barbara error followed by a Mustang block at the net tied the match at one game a piece.

The Gauchos rallied back for a 25-20 third set win with the help of Kara Sherrard and her seven kills to put the Mustangs’ backs against the wall.

“We just said, if we don’t win this we’re done. We don’t have a chance,” head coach Jon Stevenson said.

His urgency struck a cord with the team, as the Mustangs picked up their energy and began to read the Gauchos’ setter, Dana Vargas.

“With a setter you have to get her rhythm and you have to get the timing and the nuances of her play,” Stevenson said. “You have to learn that over the match.”

With Vargas effectively neutralized, setter Sarah Cawrse confused the defense by dishing the ball to the foursome of Holly Franks, Catie Smith, Keddy and Graven, as the quartet of Mustangs combined for 57 kills.

The win keeps Cal Poly’s playoff hopes alive as they try to earn a spot in the postseason for the first time in three years.

“We believe we are an NCAA tournament team. We believe we should be in that tournament,” Stevenson said.

The Mustangs would be in good position to capitalize on that belief by winning the rest of their matches, starting with two games at home this upcoming weekend. Cal Poly faces Pacific on Friday then UC Davis on Saturday, both with 7 p.m. start times in Mott Gym. The team concludes their regular season at UC Riverside on Nov. 19, where a playoff berth could be on the line.

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