Jefferson P. Nolan
The optimism of the Cal Poly’s volleyball team is certainly being put to the test.
After a preseason ridden with injuries and a lengthy losing streak, the Cal Poly volleyball team has its back up against the wall.
But it’s clear nobody is giving up any time soon.
“We’re a little down right now,” middle blocker Marianne Gera said. “But we’re working on getting better. (This week), we’re coming in with a fighting attitude. That’s all we can do. Just keep fighting, keep working hard and just keep persuing each ball every time.”
Injuries have played their role in the Mustangs’ record. Cal Poly lost Jennifer Keddy, the 2011 Big West Conference Player of the Year, following her shoulder injury earlier this year. Keddy, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker and a two-time AVCA All-America selection, led with 4.06 kills per set in 2011. Her 4.85 points per set average ranked first in the Big West and 22nd in the nation.
“We knew that not having Jenn would be tough, but we’ve got two great middles that are doing well,” redshirt junior Chelsea Hardin said. “They have been doing well — it’s just a matter of every single person executing.”
But with or without Keddy, the Mustangs are in the midst of their Big West schedule. In their opener, the team faced off against rival UC Santa Barbara Saturday at Mott Gym, and lost 3-0.
The Gauchos entered the game with a 7-9 overall record and like the Mustangs, had lost two consecutive conference matches and were looking to turn their losing streak around.
But the only time the Mustangs took a lead was in the first set. From that moment onward, the ball was in Santa Barbara’s court.
Cal Poly’s seven service errors and its singular ace did not match up to Gauchos’ seven aces, and the Mustangs went down 25-20 in the first set.
UC Santa Barbara junior Katey Thompson carried the team with 20 points throughout the match as they proceeded to push past the Cal Poly defense.
The Gauchos began the second set with a 4-1 lead over the Mustangs.
UC Santa Barbara, holding a five-point plus advantage throughout the set, limited Cal Poly to only 17 points.
Cal Poly battled to recover in the third set, but as Katey Thompson put up eight points for the Gauchos alone, UC Santa Barbara held Cal Poly to 20 points.
For the Mustangs, junior Holly Franks put up a team-high 9.5 points during the match.
Gera also contributed to the Mustangs, leading the team with a .429 attack percentage against UC Santa Barbara.
“We all have the right mentality and we’re all working and we all want the same things,” Gera said. “It’s just those few more balls, those few more serves over the net in the court that we need to win.”
The loss against UC Santa Barbara marks the team’s 11th straight loss, but for first-year head coach Sam Crosson, his focus is to prepare his players for what is to come.
Crosson, an alumnus of Pacific, is coaching the volleyball team for his first year at Cal Poly. Like every new coach, he has something to prove. And he’s confident his players have what it takes to win.
“It’s a resilient group,” Crosson said. “There are areas in the game that I think we’ve gotten better. This group’s still trying to find ways to keep pushing and keep working towards being better both individually, which will then, in turn, help the team get better.”
Cal Poly volleyball will look onward to hosting Hawaii (12-2) in Mott gym this Friday at 7 p.m.
The Hawaii women’s volleyball team is currently sporting a five-match winning streak in conference play with an overall record of 12-2.
The Mustangs will also host Cal State Northridge (12-5) at Mott gym on Saturday for their second match in two days.
The team hopes to repeat the same success the Mustangs had earlier this season against Idaho, where freshman setter Maddie Kuber led the team to its five-set win over Idaho, tallying a triple-double with 15 kills, 30 assists and 10 digs.
And like her coach and the rest of her teammates, Kuber is looking for the future to hold better results.
“Definitely I think these losses recently have motivated our team into getting better and getting ready for practice and knowing that we have to execute,” Kuber said. “We need to stay focused on the road ahead. It’s definitely rough, but as a team, we’re growing even closer and stronger together and we know that if we keep growing, we’re going to get through this.”
All eyes are focused on this team to turn its record around.
And Crosson and his team know what must be done to win.
“The girls are focused,” he said. “They’re competitive. Hawaii is no doubt a very good team, but if we can control and do things better on our side of the net, we’ll give ourselves the best chance for success, and that’s what we’re focused on.”