Junior setter Sarah Cawrse started her Cal Poly career with a bit of redemption last weekend.
Her next task is helping the Mustangs volleyball team recapture the national acclaim it hasn’t had since before her arrival.
Averaging more than 10 assists per set and 0.71 blocks per set in Cal Poly’s opening weekend, Cawrse set the Mustangs to a 2-1 record in the Shamrock Invitational at Notre Dame, including a five-set victory over then-No. 18 Arizona.
The upset put Cal Poly — which hasn’t been to the postseason in each of the past two seasons after a regional semifinal run in 2007 — back in the national consciousness.
The Mustangs received 31 points in the AVCA top 25 coaches’ poll this week and just missed making the top 25. The win over Arizona had to be a sweet victory for Cawrse, who transferred to Cal Poly in 2008 after being lost in the depth-chart shuffle at Oregon as a redshirt freshman.
“When I was at Oregon, I had the chance to play with some All-American girls,” Cawrse said. Three of them went professional.
“It was a great experience. I think it was great to have the opportunity to go there but also to come to California as well.”
The Mustangs next play BYU on Friday in the Nike Invitational in Provo, Utah, where they’ll also play No. 7 Nebraska and Idaho State on Saturday.
Cal Poly head coach Jon Stevenson was unsure just how effective Cawrse would be in a live game situation. She played only sparingly last season while practicing behind highly touted freshman Anuhea Keanini and fifth-year senior Hailey Fithian.
Keanini left the school prior to the season, but the short time with which Cawrse was left to acclimate to the starting role doesn’t seem to have stressed out the Fort Collins, Co., native.
She’s touching the ball on every possession and responsible for distributing the ball to the right spots.
“Since the setter’s usually the second contact player, they do have that responsibility,” Cawrse said, “but it’s no more than the rest of the team. It’s still the team put together, and they don’t have win or loss weighted on their shoulders. It’s win or loss weighted on the entire team.”
That casual outlook may have a lot to do with Cawrse’s early success. The team’s rotation is made up mainly of underclassmen, and she was a calming influence on the opening weekend.
“I thought last week she was unflappable,” Stevenson said, “and that’s the first weekend when everyone is flappable, and everyone including myself, we don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Sarah did a great job. I was so happy for her and proud of her.”
Cal Poly men’s cross country picked to extend streak
Gearing up for its season-opening meet Saturday at UC Santa Barbara, the Cal Poly men’s cross country team was picked to win its eighth straight Big West Conference title when the coaches’ poll was released Wednesday.
The Mustangs are also going for their 11th overall, and the streak is gaining a life all its own.
“Runners tend to sometimes put more pressure on themselves,” Mustangs head coach Mark Conover said. “So it’s definitely not something I think you constantly need to be reminded of, but they take pride in trying to extend it.”“It’s an interesting situation because people should not take it for granted. It’s not an easy thing to do.”
Carl Dargitz returns after placing sixth in the conference championship meet last season, and Daniel Gonia, the 2008 individual conference champion, is back after missing all of last season with a lower leg injury.
The Cal Poly women were selected to repeat their third-place finish from a year ago. The Mustangs have Kayleigh Tyerman coming back off a second-place overall finish in the conference championships and add Cuesta College transfer Kelly Barmann, who finished second at the junior college state cross country championships last season.
“UC Santa Barbara and UC Davis were ahead of us last year,” Conover said, “and they’re really good again this year, but I see a team that has a good committed group coming back. So, we’re really excited to see about the women.”
Cal Poly women’s soccer opens home season Friday
After an eyebrow-raising 7-0 loss to UCLA in the season opener, the Cal Poly women’s soccer team rebounded for consecutive 2-1 victories against Hawaii and Long Island last weekend.
“I hear a lot of ‘What about that UCLA game,’ ” Mustangs head coach Alex Crozier said, “and in my mind, that game was a game that just kind of helped me identify what we need to work on.
“The team knows how to win.”
Cal Poly must have straightened something out because the Mustangs take a two-match win streak into a showdown with defending Western Athletic Conference champion San Jose State on Friday at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Crozier expects the matchup with the Spartans to be wide open. The Mustangs may have to win it with their defense, a unit still trying to jell with new players at new positions and others recovering from injury.
“We haven’t reached close to our potential yet,” Crozier said. “We still need to get a rhythm in the back. Those are things that take a little time to sort out.”