Savannah Niemen knew this day would come.
The Big West title was in reach Saturday as Cal Poly hosted UC Irvine on Senior Day inside Mott Athletics Center. And with a two-set lead and a healthy cushion in the third, Niemen and another senior who have been through the ups and downs with the Mustangs volleyball program the past four years hatched a plan.
“I am setting Sav,” senior Taylor Nelson told Cal Poly head coach Sam Crosson.
“It was like, ‘We get it, go ahead, you want the memory. We have a little bit of a lead here, so fire away,’ ” Crosson said after the match. “She was going to get set that last six or seven times until that match was over.”
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The plan played out perfectly.
On the final point, Nelson lofted perfect pass to Niemen, who blew the kill past UC Irvine defenders to win the match, 25-11, 25-20, 25-16, and give the Cal Poly volleyball team its first Big West Conference title since 2007.
“All the hard work we put in, it was validated in the most perfect way,” Niemen said.
Niemen’s parents were in the stands to watch her collect six kills and two aces to help Cal Poly to its 19th straight win.
“I am stoked that the four-year process we looked at and kind of grinded through early on has come to fruition,” Crosson said. “It’s a great group of girls that love to show up and work.”
Meanwhile, it was a bit of déjà vu for the Van Windens.
Kelly Van Winden was part of the Cal Poly women’s volleyball team that won a conference title in 1985. She was in the stands Saturday watching her daughters, Adlee and Torrey, follow in her footsteps. The only Cal Poly team to have a better start to the season than the 2017 squad that started 24-2 (14-0 Big West) was the 1985 group that went 20-3.
Sophomore Torrey Van Winden was a force for the Mustangs on Saturday. She had eight kills in the second set to rally the Mustangs for the win. She finished with a match-high 13 kills.
“It’s incredible that my mom was here,” said Torrey Van Winden, who transferred from UCLA before the season to join her older sister, a junior. “I am just so blessed to come at the time that I did, and I am so proud for this team for sticking it out.”
Cal Poly has two more games left in the regular season and is looking to complete an undefeated Big West season with UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton left on the schedule. After that, the No. 22-ranked Mustangs, who clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament with the win Saturday, will wait to see where they fall when the NCAA selects the pairings Nov. 26.
“We are not going to overlook next weekend of course, but it’s tournament time,” Torrey Van Winden said. “We have to keep our heads down and keep grinding and preparing to play those big teams. We really have to step up our game.”