Because there’s nothing better than media overreaction to an early season upset, I’m going to jump all over the Cal Poly volleyball team’s 3-2 comeback win over No. 18 Arizona in the Shamrock Invitational at Notre Dame on Friday.
Could this mean that the Mustangs are back?
Some were ready to ask if Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson, who took the Mustangs from the doldrums of college volleyball and turned them into an NCAA Tournament contender in only a few years, was losing his Midas touch.
The team got the tourney in 2006 and went to a regional semifinal in 2007, but after starting the 2008 season in the top 10, Cal Poly failed to make the tournament at all, and a super young team took its lumps last year.
If this upset signals a return to relevancy for Cal Poly, those doubts about Stevenson might have to fade.
I wasn’t at the match, but on paper, the team looked balanced, and the new pieces seem to have helped give the team the boost that wasn’t there last season — when the team lost seven five-set matches, including five in a row during Big West Conference play.
The usual suspects were there. Senior Dominique Olowolafe had 14 kills and four blocks, and sophomore Jennifer Keddy, the pride of Missoula, Mont., blocked eight and tallied 15 kills.
“They’re two big kids who move really well and jump really high,” Stevenson told me by phone, “and our defense is so good. They’re trained really well, and they just had to hit their stride. They did and it was really a great thing.”
The Mustangs also got a solid contribution from first-year setter Sarah Cawrse (57 assists) and superstar freshman Kristina Graven (14 kills, 11 digs).
Cawrse, a former Oregon transfer, was thrust into the starting role when sophomore Anuhea Keanini — who got the majority of playing time at setter last season — did not return to the team. Cawrse had 50 more assists in one match than she previously had in her career with Cal Poly.
Graven made an immediate impact. Outside hitter Catie Smith tied for the team high with 15 kills, but hit only .077. Graven, the highest ranked recruit Stevenson has landed at Cal Poly, hit .178 and was the most effective threat from the outside.
“A lot of people said that we were real close last year and Graven would made the difference,” Stevenson said. “It was that way indeed. Kristina Graven, she is the real deal. She made huge plays and passed really well under pressure.”
During the best seasons, Cal Poly fans showed that they would support a winning team, and this season has gotten off on the right foot in that regard. If Stevenson and the ‘Stangs can keep up the winning ways, they may find an appreciative group waiting for them at the Sept. 19 home opener against Cal State Bakersfield.
There are 11 more matches to go before then. Put your prediction skills on the line for me here. What will be the Mustangs’ record when they next play in Mott Gym?