The Mustangs will kick off their 2007 volleyball season at the Wichita State Invitational from Aug. 24 to 26 by playing matches against the host Shockers (25-7, 2006), Kansas State (12-18) and North Texas (23-13).
They head into this year with momentum from a successful 2006 season where they earned a 23-6 overall mark, had the second-highest winning percentage in school history (.793), and won the first Big West title in 22 years with a 13-1 record.
They also reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
Athletics director Alison Cone said that she is excited about the upcoming volleyball season.
“So much momentum was created last year and I believe this team has the talent, coaching staff, and work ethic to continue that momentum,” Cone said.
The defending Big West Conference champions have a 28 match regular season ahead of them and will play seven contests against 2006 NCAA tournament qualifiers, including a Sept. 3 game at defending-national champion Nebraska.
Assistant coach Mike Johnson said that the 2007 schedule is similar to last year’s in terms of the level of difficulty of competition.
Every player will be returning except for outside hitter Candace Milton who graduated.
Returning starters include junior outside hitter Kylie Atherstone, the Big West Co-Player of the Year for 2006, who averaged 4.56 kills per game last season.
Joining Atherstone will be junior outside hitter Alicia Waller (3.79) and sophomore outside hitter Ashleigh Bertoni (2.11). In addition, starting senior setter Chelsea Hayes (12.69 assists per game), starting senior libero Kristin Jackson (5.06 digs per game) and starting junior middle blocker Jacyln Houston (1.5 blocks per game) are returning.
Gabrielle Rivera, a transfer from Florida State who is eligible to play in her junior season after redshirting last year, will round out the team. She brings experience from competing with the Puerto Rican Junior National team in 2003 and 2005, and started 12 of 23 matches for the Seminoles in 2005.
New players joining the team are Alison Mort from Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif.; Dominique Olowolafe from Haslett High School in East Lansing, Mich.; and Nicole Pederson from Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Head volleyball coach Jon Stevenson, who is entering his third year at Cal Poly and was the 2006 Big West Coach of the Year, will lead the team.
“We have the same strategy as last year,” Stevenson said in a Mustang Athletics Department press release. “If you have designs on progressing deep into the NCAA Tournament, you’ve got to regularly perform against the top teams in the nation.”
These top teams include Nebraska, Stanford, Penn State, BYU, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara.
Nebraska enters the 2007 season as the defending national champion, and brings new talent to the court with incoming freshman Tara Mueller who is currently playing as part of the U.S. Women’s Volleyball Junior National Team in the FIVB U-20 World Championships held in Thailand from July 19 to 27.
Stanford, who finished second in the 2006 national championships, is returning three All-Americans and 10 letterwinners. PrepVolleyball.com deemed their four-player recruiting class, headlined by incoming freshman outside hitter Alix Kineman, as best in the nation.
Penn State lost in the elite eight last year, but is a top five school.
“They have the most physical talent of any team we may see,” Johnson said.
Since the Mustangs are playing tournaments at Nebraska and Stanford this season, Johnson said that both of those teams have the potential to come to Cal Poly for tournaments in 2008.