A rough weekend was made that much worse when another injury hit the Cal Poly volleyball team.
In the home finale, senior outside hitter Chelsea Hardin was hurt with what coaches hope is not a fully blown Achilles’ tendon, and the Mustangs went on to drop the second of two losses to the two bottom teams in the Big West Conference, falling to visiting Cal State Fullerton 3-1 Saturday.
Cal Poly (11-16, 5-9 Big West) was aiming to be in fifth place going to the final two matches of the season, visits to UC Irvine and Long Beach State, but with a disappointing final homestand that started with a five-set loss to last-place
UC Riverside (2-24, 1-13 Big West) on Friday, the Mustangs sank to seventh.
“A loss is a loss,” senior Megan McConnell said. “It doesn’t really matter if you lose to the bottom two teams or if you lose to the top two teams. But I think it hurts more when you go in so emotionally invested and it doesn’t go your way.”
Things certainly got emotional when Hardin went down, the latest in a long string of injuries for the program.
While she led the team with 12 kills, the senior hit the deck early in the deciding fourth set, and in a silent Mott Athletic Center, her cries seemed to indicate something more serious than the average ankle sprain.
Athletic trainers tended to Hardin on the sideline as the Mustangs faded. The Titans (11-16, 4-11 Big West) jumped out to a 16-7 lead, and despite a comeback attempt, Cal State Fullerton held on to win 25-19.
The Titans swept the final three sets, including 25-22, 25-23 victories in the second and third, after Cal Poly took the first set 25-19.
McConnell had a team-high 15 kills. Hardin and Hannah Schleis added 12 apiece, and freshman Taylor Gruenewald had 10. Junior setter Shannon
Garrett dished out 52 assists.
Steffi Sooter and Nicole Kessler shared the team high with 13 digs, and McConnell pitched in 10.
Cal State Fullerton was led by Alyse Hensley and Bre Moreland, who had 19 kills apiece. Julie Consani had 49 assists and 14 digs.
The Mustangs came out blazing offensively, hitting .500 in the first set before slumping the rest of the way. Cal Poly hit just .116 in the fourth set and finished hitting .270 overall.
“This is tough,” second-year head coach Sam Crosson said. “It’s a tough weekend for us, but overall, we look at it with a little perspective. With two matches to go, we’re in a much better place than we were last year.
Said McConnell: “We’ve grown a lot as a team. This past offseason was really important for us. We’ve improved, we’ve tripled the number of wins that we got since last year. This is only the beginning for this program.”
The Mustangs won just four matches in 2012. So, there is improvement to inspire a somewhat positive view.
It’s still hard not to think about what might have been if not for injuries. Sophomore setter Maddie Kuber was lost for the season with a knee early in the year.
Senior middle blocker Jennifer Keddy never returned fully to form before she was lost in the first half of conference play to a recurring foot injury.
The former Big West Conference Player of the Year ends her collegiate indoor career having missed all but 16 matches over the past two seasons.
Now Hardin, the third-leading attacker on the team this season, is lost, too.
Brought to Cal Poly in the same recruiting class under former head coach Jon Stevenson, McConnell, Hardin and Keddy have all spent redshirt seasons injured on the sidelines.
“It feels like it’s been my class especially,” McConnell said. “It’s been pretty plagued with injury. Four of us ended up redshirting. We would have had five fifth-years, but Holly (Franks) transferred. It’s bad luck, I guess. This was definitely a rough one. I feel bad for Chelsea because it’s the end of her career.”