With top player hurt, Cal Poly vol­ley­ball team falls in tour­ney

The Tribune (SLO) (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JOSEPH D’HIPPOLITO

The ab­sence of the Big West Con­fer­ence’s player of the year dev­as­tated Cal Poly’s hopes to ad­vance in the NCAA women’s vol­ley­ball tour­na­ment Fri­day night.

With Tor­rey Van Win­den unavail­able, the backto-back con­fer­ence cham­pion and No. 14-ranked Mus­tangs sus­tained a 25-19, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22 loss to un­ranked San Diego in the first round at USC’s Galen Cen­ter.

Van Win­den, ranked third na­tion­ally with 5.07 kills per set, was in­jured when a vol­ley­ball hit her in the face dur­ing Tues­day’s prac­tice. The ju­nior was placed in con­cus­sion pro­to­col Fri­day and was not med­i­cally cleared to play.

Van Win­den’s team­mates found out hours be­fore their match against USD (17-12).

“We had to fig­ure out and find ways to be suc­cess­ful with­out her on the court,” Cal Poly head coach Sam Crosson said. “Cer­tainly as a staff, you’re a lit­tle un­sure of how the group is go­ing to re­act.”

Out­side hit­ter Adlee Van Win­den de­scribed the re­ac­tion to the news about her younger sis­ter.

“When we found that out, it ob­vi­ously was dev­as­tat­ing, heart­break­ing,” the se­nior said. “She puts up num­bers that are crazy for our con­fer­ence and for our team. Not only that, but she holds our team very ac­count­able. She’s the per­son on the court who keeps peo­ple in line, and she knows the game very well.”

Yet the Mus­tangs trans­formed shock into de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“We just had to trust and be­lieve in the process and the hard work that peo­ple put in,” Adlee Van Win­den said. “Our only men­tal­ity that we al­lowed our­selves to have was to be­lieve that we could win this game with­out her.”

Mid­dle blocker Mered­ith Phillips ex­pressed that con­fi­dence more em­phat­i­cally.

‘‘ YOU’RE A LIT­TLE UN­SURE OF HOW THE GROUP IS GO­ING TO RE­ACT. Cal Poly head coach Sam Crosson, on the ab­sence of Tor­rey Van Win­den

“There was never a sec­ond where we had doubt that we didn’t think we could do it with­out her,” Phillips said. “We knew we had other peo­ple who would step up and come to play, and they did.”

Maia Dvo­racek started in the younger Van Win­den’s place and fin­ished with ca­reer highs of eight kills and four digs. The elder Van Win­den con­trib­uted 19 kills, one less than her sea­son best. But Cal Poly (25-3) com­piled a .157 hit­ting per­cent­age — the sea­son’s sec­ond low­est.

Mean­while, the Toreros pounded kills at a .463 rate in the first two sets.

“They are a high-oc­tane of­fen­sive team,” Crosson said. “They’ve got a lot of good at­tack­ers at the an­ten­nas, and when that team passes the ball and

has mul­ti­ple op­tions, they stress you in a lot of ways.”

Yet im­proved de­fense kept Cal Poly com­pet­i­tive. The Mus­tangs com­piled 25 of their 44 digs and 10 of their 12 block as­sists in the fi­nal two sets, while record­ing both of their solo blocks.

“I thought our de­fense in the third and fourth sets was tremen­dously bet­ter,” Crosson said. “We started block­ing more balls. We started to get more tran­si­tion swings. That just gave the team more con­fi­dence and be­lief that we’re go­ing to do this.”

Bet­ter block­ing en­abled the Mus­tangs to turn a 6-4 deficit into a 10-6 lead in the fourth set. Dvo­racek and Madi­lyn Mercer each had two block as­sists dur­ing that spree, with Mercer adding a kill off Avalon DeNe­cochea’s quick set.

But USD scored five of its next eight points off hit­ting er­rors in re­tak­ing a 14-12 lead. Lau­ren Fuller ac­counted for the other three points on kills, part of her match-high 22.

Cal Poly used two of the Toreros’ hit­ting er­rors to force a 14-14 tie, then USD used an 8-3 surge to build a 22-17 ad­van­tage. The Mus­tangs have now lost five suc­ces­sive matches to the Toreros.

“The big­gest key for me was see­ing the re­sponse of this group af­ter the sec­ond set,” Crosson said. “It could have been very easy for them to not gal­va­nize them­selves as a group and to start think­ing about the in­di­vid­ual. But that’s not the cul­ture we have in this pro­gram. To find our­selves in a po­ten­tial fifth set within 12 hours of learn­ing that speaks vol­umes to this group.”

The Mus­tangs’ sea­son comes to an end one step shy of last year when they were knocked out in the sec­ond round.

CAL POLY ATH­LET­ICS

The Cal Poly vol­ley­ball team cel­e­brates a point against the Uni­ver­sity of San Diego dur­ing their first-round NCAA tour­na­ment match Fri­day night at the Galen Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les. The Mus­tangs lost 25-19, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22.

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