It had every bit the feel of another Cal Poly comeback special.
The Mustangs came into Saturday’s 3-2 loss to UC Santa Barbara having won three volleyball matches this season after falling behind 2-0 in the first two sets.
Cal Poly has pulled off the feat enough for its players to begin fielding questions about their official philosophy in 0-2 situations.
“You have to give everything because if they win the next game, everything’s going to be over,” said Mustangs setter Sarah Cawrse, who had match highs with 65 assists and three service aces. “We had the same kind of turnaround and everything, it just didn’t turn out how we wanted.”
Cal Poly (14-5, 4-2 Big West Conference) appeared well within its comfort zone in front of 1,855 in Mott Gym by taking the third and fourth sets 25-21 and 25-22 after dropping the first two by identical 25-23 scores.
The Mustangs even staked themselves to a 7-5 lead in the fifth, but the Gauchos (10-8, 4-1 Big West) dominated the second half of the set, taking 10 of the final 13 points in the match and winning 15-10.
It was the second tough loss at home in as many weeks for Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson, who was unavailable for comment following the match and did not take questions after the Mustangs’ five-set loss to Cal State Fullerton last Friday.
Two sets down hasn’t been an unfamiliar or wholly unsuccessful position for the Mustangs. They came back from down two to beat nationally ranked Arizona in the season opener and did the same in their Big West opener against UC Irvine, and in another nonconference match with Oregon State.
UC Santa Barbara coach Kathy Gregory’s team was coming off a two-match losing streak, but she hardly had to remind the Gauchos about the Mustangs’ penchant for erasing two-set deficits.
UC Santa Barbara pulled off the same feat against Long Beach State a week ago.
“Volleyball is like that,” Gregory said. “You’re up and down. You’re up, you’re down, but you just have to find a way to be resilient and stay in there and fight. So, we found a way.”
The Gauchos had five players reach double digits in kills and were led by Stacy Schmidt with 17.
Freshman outside hitter Kristina Graven had a match-high 24 kills for Cal Poly, which also got 16 kills from sophomore middle blocker Jennifer Keddy. Catie Smith (14) and Dominique Olowolafe (13) were also in double digits, and libero Alison Mort had a match-high 19 digs for the Mustangs.
It appeared early in the fifth set that Cal Poly was on its way to victory. The Mustangs went up 5-2 when the Gauchos failed to return a serve and kept the two-point cushion for the next couple of rotations.
But after Graven hit a ball long, UC Santa Barbara upped the level of its serving.
Charlene DeHoog had a service ace for the Gauchos to give them an 8-7 lead, and it all unraveled from there for Cal Poly until Kara Sherrard had the final kill.
“We got aced, and they got a rally of points, and it just spiraled out from there,” said Graven, who also had 15 digs.
The Mustangs did well to get to the fifth set.
After blowing a lead in the first set and coming up short in a late comeback in the second, the Mustangs led for most of the following two.
Keeping at least a two- or three-point lead, it seemed like Cal Poly went to its bread and butter. The Mustangs continually fed Keddy, who had 12 of her kills in the third and fourth sets combined.
“We’ve done it a lot of times before so we’re confident,” Graven said. “Going down 0-2, it obviously isn’t what we prefer, but we know we can pull it out.
“We have to win the next game. There’s no other option. So, we might go to more of what we know works rather than trying to diversify it and switch up the other team. We go with what we do.”