After suffering a deflating string of five-set losses a year ago, the Cal Poly volleyball team got off on the right side of one this season, pulling off an upset in the process.
The unranked Mustangs opened the season with a 3-2 win over No. 18 Arizona in the Shamrock Invitational hosted by Notre Dame on Friday. Cal Poly dropped the first two sets but rallied back to win the next three (21-25, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19, 17-15).
At one point last season, the Mustangs lost five straight five-set matches in Big West Conference play and won only three of their 10 five-set matches.
“To go five sets again,” Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson said by phone, “it was like a little bit of torture thinking about all of those matches from last year.”
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The Mustangs dominated in the middle. Middle blockers Dominique Olowolafe and Jennifer Keddy combined for 29 kills and committed just four hitting errors. Highly touted freshman Kristina Graven had 14 kills and 11 digs, and Catie Smith tied Keddy for the team-high with 15 kills.
Setter Sarah Cawrse, a former transfer from Oregon State in her first year starting for Cal Poly, had 57 assists.
“She just did fantastically well given that she started one match and hardly played at all last year,” Stevenson said. “Now, it’s her ship, and she was nervous, but then she just steadied it out.”
The Wildcats were led by Whitney Dotsy’s 19 kills. And Tiffany Owens added 17 for Arizona, which was the highest-ranked team in the event.
The Mustangs wrap up the tournament with matches today against Marshall and Notre Dame before returning home. If they remain unbeaten, they could be headed toward their first national ranking since 2008, when Cal Poly started the season in the top 10.
“In order for us to have this happy weekend, we have to win (today),” Stevenson said. “And if we can back it up, life changes for all of us.”
Cal Poly’s nonleague match at Hawaii wasn’t over before The Tribune went to press. See Sunday’s Tribune for a report on the match.