Cal Poly

Cal Poly's volleyball team finds more magic at Mott Gym

Cal Poly’s Kristina Graven mixed in a dink with her big hitting against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday.
Cal Poly’s Kristina Graven mixed in a dink with her big hitting against UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday. nlucero@thetribunenews.com

The Cal Poly volleyball team already knew how to win in Mott Gym.

Wednesday, the Mustangs learned five-set match mastery — by doing.

The final frontier in the Big West Conference remains the team’s winless record on the road, but Cal Poly has a few more matches in Mott’s friendly confines before worrying about that again.

Despite failing to close out rival UC Santa Barbara on five match-point opportunities in the fourth set, the Mustangs scrambled for a victory in the fifth, upsetting the first-place Gauchos 25-13, 17-25, 25-16, 29-31, 15-13 to improve to 4-0 at home.

“It’s unbelievable,” interim head coach Caroline Walters said. “Going back and forth, I think it nearly killed me, but it’s fun, and to see them fighting for every single point, it’s all I can ask for as a coach.”

Junior middle blocker Jennifer Keddy tied a career high with 21 kills and set a career best with 18 digs. Sophomore hitter Kristina Graven added 18 kills, including four in the back-and-forth rally in the fourth set and the match winner in the fifth.

Sophomore setter Kate Walters had 52 assists, her best effort since tallying 57 in a five-set loss at Long Beach State on Sept. 24.

In that match at Long Beach, Cal Poly (8-11, 3-3 Big West) held a 14-12 lead in the fifth set and failed to put the 49ers away, dropping four straight points in a sudden-death defeat.

After the five fruitless match points in the fourth set Wednesday, the Mustangs cruised to a 9-4 lead in the fifth. It started to look like another late-match collapse as UC Santa Barbara (11-8, 4-2 Big West) scored six straight points to take a 10-9 lead.

But Kate Walters helped break an 11-11 tie with a solo block, Keddy added a kill and Graven finished it off with a spike from the left side of the net.

Tragedy did not strike twice, and Cal Poly had been working to brush away the taste of the Long Beach loss.

“We definitely worked on just finishing games at practice,” Kate Walters said. “Those drills that if you don’t get them, the game’s over. If you don’t serve in, the game’s over.

“We’ve been trying to work on finishing games, and I think we really stepped up tonight.”

It was only the third five-set match of the season for Cal Poly, which has recently been playing games of sweep or be swept.

Not including the Long Beach State loss, the Mustangs came into the match 4-4 in their past eight matches, all three-set affairs.

Cal Poly defeated both the Gauchos and UC Davis — the first- and second-place teams in the Big West on the Mustangs’ home floor.

On the road, Cal Poly suffered 3-0 defeats to UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton.

Cal Poly hosts Cal State Northridge tonight and Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton next week as part of the current homestand before travelling to Pacific on Oct. 28.

The road woes still a mystery, Caroline Walters happily credits the atmosphere at Mott Gym for an extra energy boost.

“Mott Gym provides the most unique experience to play volleyball in the country,” said Caroline Walters, a former Santa Clara standout. “And I’ve played a lot of places. I played at Hawaii and I played at Stanford, some huge powerhouses. And the band, the fans and the atmosphere that Mott Gym has is unbelievable.

“We have to figure out a way to win on the road, but I can’t blame them that they play with a little swagger when they’re in here in front of their home court.”

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