For the third consecutive year, Cal Poly Volleyball is going to the NCAA Tournament. The Mustangs received an at-large bid to the 64-team tournament and will face Georgia in the first round of the tournament on Friday, Dec. 6 at 4:30 p.m inside Maples Pavilion in Palo Alto, CA.
“We were so excited,” sophomore middle blocker Meredith Phillips said. “It proves that all our hard work this season has paid off.”
This is the Mustangs’ 17th tournament appearance in program history and the first time they have received an at-large bid since 2002. In addition, this is the first time the Mustangs have made three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances since 1984-86.
After an 0-3 to start the season, the Mustangs finished their season 20-8 while placing second in the Big West Conference with a 13-3 conference record. The Mustangs recorded impressive wins over then No. 16 Utah, Big West Conference champion Hawai’i and UC Santa Barbara.
Although the Mustangs had eight total losses, they never lost on their home court, Mott Athletics Center. Cal Poly holds the nation’s longest active home winning streak at 32 matches. At one point in the season, the Mustangs strung together eight wins in a row until losing an away match to rival UC Santa Barbara on Oct. 19.
Entering the season, the Mustangs had to play without senior outside hitter Torrey Van Winden. Multiple players had to step up in her place. Junior outside hitter Maia Dvoracek filled the role and leads the team in kills (439) and kills per set (4.30). Senior libero Mika Dickson leads the team in digs with 366. Lastly, sophomore setter Avalon DeNecochea leads the team in assists with 970.
In both the 2017 and 2018 season, the Mustangs automatically got into the tournament through winning the Big West Conference. In 2017, the Mustangs managed to sweep the University of Denver in the first round before losing in the second round to then No. 15 UCLA 3-1. In 2018, Cal Poly was defeated in the first round by the University of San Diego 3-1 after a sudden injury sidelined Van Winden for the tournament and the entirety of the season.
“We had a tough go last year when we lost [Van Winden] when we went into the tournament,” Dvoracek said. “I think that made us stronger.”
“I think this year they have proven to be able to win without [Van Winden],” head coach Caroline Walters said.
While the current Mustang roster has experience in the NCAA Tournament, this will be Georgia’s first tournament appearance since 2013.
“I think for our kids who have played in tournament matches, it absolutely helps with the nerves,” Walters said.
Georgia holds a 1-0 all-time series record against the Mustangs, with the lone win happening back in 1990. Georgia is coming out of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and holds a 20-9 overall record with a 12-6 conference record. Georgia will be a unique matchup for the Mustangs as Cal Poly has not faced a team with a similar offense to that of the Bulldogs.
“Georgia’s offense is something we have not seen before,” Phillips said.
“They are a good volleyball team,” Walters said. “They are well-coached, disciplined, athletic and come from a great conference.”
Regardless of their opponent, the Mustangs are excited to play in the tournament once again and compete for one of their season’s goals — to make the Sweet 16.
“You only get to do this for four years and there are no promises that we make it the next two years, so I am just taking it all in,” Phillips said.
The winner of the Cal Poly versus Georgia matchup will face the winner of No. 3 Stanford versus Denver on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m inside Maples Pavilion.