So when UCLA offered her a chance to compete in the Pac-12 Conference — and her elder sibling already at Cal Poly — Torrey Van Winden jumped at it. And she flourished. She earned First-Team All-Pac-12 honors her freshman season and was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team, in addition to helping UCLA to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Conference Tournament.
But something wasn’t right.
After the season, despite pushback from people who thought she should stay in the Pac-12 or go to the Big 10, Torrey Van Winden transferred to Cal Poly, reuniting with her sister and finding peace of mind.
“Ultimately, it was a quality-of-life switch,” Torrey Van Winden said. “I’m invested in the outdoors. They didn’t have my major there, and I missed my sister and the bond we had on the court. It was more choosing quality of life over volleyball.”
And the Mustangs have reaped the benefits.
Cal Poly is off to a 17-2 start, is 7-0 in Big West play and currently riding a 12-match winning streak — the program’s best start in 32 years. The Mustangs are ranked No. 23 in the AVCA National poll, having cracked the top 25 for the first time since 2008.
While this season’s success can partially be attributed to Torrey Van Winden’s transfer ahead of her sophomore season, Cal Poly head coach Sam Crosson has been laying the framework of success for years.
Crosson came on board as head coach in 2012, and after two losing seasons, he took a hard look at where scholarships were given.
“When I got here, we were very junior-senior oriented — a lot of our scholarships were upperclassmen,” Crosson said. “We looked at it, and we had to make a decision.”
Tired of losing and with the end of a five-year contract looming, Crosson essentially went all in on a youth movement and decided to invest six of the team’s 12 scholarships into the incoming 2014 class.
That class saw the signing of Raeann Greisen, Taylor Nelson and Savannah Niemen — all of whom are seniors on this year’s team. That year was also the last time Cal Poly posted a losing record.
Since 2014, the Mustangs finished Big West runner-up in 2015 and 2016.
“Every year, we just try to continually make progress,” Crosson said. “I don’t know what the end line looks like. I don’t know if this is as good as we can get.”
With the Van Windens hitting on the outside, opposing teams pick their poison. Greisen, who ranks 17th in the nation in hitting percentage (.410), and Nieman are the beneficiaries, with Nelson — who ranks fourth in the nation in assists per set (15.27) — in the middle directing the passing.
Together, the two Van Winden’s have 537 kills so far this season — nearly 56 percent of the team’s total. For perspective, Cal Poly’s opponents have only totaled 743 on the year. Torrey Van Winden is eighth in the nation and second in the Big West in kills per set (4.75).
“It’s really nice to have someone on the court next to you that knows you inside and out better than yourself,” Torrey Van Winden said. “We just have this bond that you can’t build with a teammate that doesn’t have your blood.”
Even with the buzz that surrounds this season, Crosson says the team is focused.
“This team has been unbelievable in not allowing outside distractions take them away from what they are trying to accomplish,” Crosson said. “It’s been really good this year in terms of, ‘Here’s what’s next for us.’ ”
What is next for the Mustangs is CSUN (5-15, 2-5) at 7 p.m. Friday in only Cal Poly’s third home match this season. Cal Poly then plays host to Long Beach State (5-15, 2-5) on Saturday.