Though Cal Poly volleyball was able to lure new head coach Sam Crosson, one of the architects behind national powerhouse Cal the past few seasons, most of the focus has been on what the program has lost in the offseason.
It started with former coach Jon Stevenson, who was removed shortly after the start of the 2011 season and negotiated his resignation after the release of a sexual harassment investigation into his actions. Stevenson was found dead in June after accidentally ingesting a lethal mix of prescription drugs.
On the court, second-leading hitter Kristina Graven, a two-year starter and honors candidate at outside hitter, transferred to St. Mary’s after the season. Promising freshman Allison Lee also left the program.
Then All-America middle blocker Jennifer Keddy was hampered by shoulder problems this spring. The issue eventually led to a late-summer surgery and Crosson deciding to rule her out for the entire 2012 season.
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Just last week, left-handed hitter Holly Franks sprained her right ankle and was seen at Mustangs training camp this week showing off the purple bruise that invaded the lower part of the entire limb.
Franks could be back for next Friday’s season-opener against San Diego or the next day’s game against No. 2 Texas, but the fact remains that Cal Poly lost four of its top seven hitters from last season’s 12-17 team to either injury, transfer or graduation.
All of the above leads observers to wonder what might be left when the team holds its annual Green-Gold Match. Free and open to the public, the intra-squad scrimmage is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at Mott Gym.
“We’re going to have to have everyone do a little bit more,” Crosson said. “At the same time, I think our passing, our ball control is pretty good, our setters are getting better. And we’ve got enough arms at the antenna and in the middle to score enough points. I think the question is going to be whether we are going to be consistent in those things.”
Senior Molly Pon is the leading returning hitter from last season. With 141 kills, she ranked fourth behind Keddy, Graven and graduated senior Catie Smith, a trio that combined for 72.8 percent of Cal Poly’s kills.
Their absence leaves a huge void that Pon said the Mustangs have long since come to grips with having to fill, and that reality has led to a sharper mental preparation.
“Most of the transfers and injuries, we can’t control those things,” Pon said. “We let those things go a long time ago in the spring. This is our group, we’re going to work hard with this group and make this what we need to do to win.
“They’re going to see a lot different group than they have in the past. We’ve worked with team unity, and we’re all on the same page. We’re going to be a lot more competitive, focused and purposed mentally than we have been before.”
Senior Megan McConnell takes over as the team’s top middle blocker. The former Big West All-Freshmen honoree was fifth on the team with 93 kills a season ago. Outside hitter Chelsea Hardin was sixth with 53. Along with Franks, all three need to play a big role this season.
All three have also dealt with major in injuries since joining Pon as one of the most celebrated Mustangs recruiting classes back in 2009.
Junior setter Kate Walters came along the following season, and she’s also coming off a devastating injury. Walters had a breakout season in 2011, getting her first meaningful playing time and averaging 10.25 assists per set. She was hobbled most of the season by a stress fracture in her right leg and spent almost the entire offseason rehabbing away from the court.
“I kind of took a backseat on my injury and tried to stick it out for my team as long as I could,” said Walters, the younger sister of former interim head coach and returning assistant Caroline Walters. “I knew we were going through a lot of things, and I wanted to be there for them and not think about myself in that sense.
“Playing through that injury was one of the toughest things I’ve done, but it was well worth it. It took a long time to heal. I don’t regret any match I’ve played or any match I was in pain. I just went out there and did what I could until I couldn’t move any more.”
The most seasoned returner at setter, Walters is competing for playing time with two others, and competition seems to be a constant everywhere on the floor.
Though it could easily be viewed as a rebuilding year, Crosson has his sights firmly set on having the team playing its best heading into the Big West schedule.
He only mentioned one goal for a team that’s short on big-play experience.
“Win the conference. It’s just as simple as that,” Crosson said. “It’s always going to be our number one goal, and there’s nothing this group can’t achieve. It might seem like a stretch or I’m a little crazy thinking it’s possible. But at the same time, if we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t be in here every day working our butts off.
“This is our team. This is who we have, and we’re working to make that the best it can be.”