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2018 Another Record-Making Season for Cal Poly Volleyball

2018 Another Record-Making Season for Cal Poly Volleyball


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Coming off of what was the best season in program history in 2017, the Cal Poly volleyball team knew after last season it would have a lot to live up to in 2018 to follow a record-breaking season. What ended up happening was the 2018 team making history in its own way for yet another successful season.

The Mustangs finished 2018 with a 25-3 record, just two wins shy of matching the 2017 record of 27-3. They also went 15-1 in the Big West to win their second consecutive conference title and earn their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006-07. The team also earned its highest AVCA Top 25 ranking since 2008 with a No. 11 ranking at one point this season and made history by starting the season 19-1, the best record through 20 matches in program history after rattling off 18 straight wins. They also went undefeated at home for the second straight season, going 10-0 to make program history with 19 straight wins at Mott Athletics Center dating back to 2016.

"The word that best describes the 2018 season is progress," seventh year head coach Sam Crosson said. "After a historic season in 2017, there were a lot of unanswered questions about the 2018 team. The group solidified their desire and determination to remove any limits that may have been present and took on the daily challenge of working hard, sacrificing, and cultivating the success that we achieved this year. It speaks highly of the culture we have here at Cal Poly to be able to continue the success of the program even after the loss of players who had been pillars to our recent success."

After losing three important seniors to graduation following last season, the team and coaching staff knew that production would be hard to replace. The team added seven newcomers, five freshman and two transfers to help bolster the roster. Two of those freshmen, Avalon DeNecochea and Meredith Phillips would end up starting and having a bigger impact than anyone could have expected.

"Each season brings with it new and exciting unknowns and we certainly felt the presence of our freshman this season," Crosson noted about the newcomers to this year's team. "All five of our freshmen made contributions to our success this year, obviously Avalon and Meredith were big key components in terms of playing time and performance, but each of our freshmen were contributors at different points in the season and their value was felt both on the court and as members within our program."

After weeks of practice, the 2018 season began for the Mustangs at the Panther Challenge in Pittsburgh. Following a season-opening win over Pepperdine, they fell to the No. 20 Panthers in their first true road match of the season. Pittsburgh went on to finish the regular season with only one loss and ranked No. 11 in the nation. The Mustangs got hot after that match, winning their next 18 straight.

In the middle of that winning streak came two of the best wins in program history. Following a tournament win in Utah, Cal Poly returned to Mott Athletics Center in early September to take on the team that ousted them from the NCAA Tournament last season, UCLA, for two straight matches. The Bruins came into the matches ranked No. 9 in the nation. In front of a raucous crowd, the Mustangs beat UCLA both nights 3-1 to make history with their first wins over a Top-10 team since 2007 to establish themselves nationally.

Following those wins, Cal Poly continued to roll, winning a tournament in Texas before cruising through its first nine matches of conference play. During that span, the Mustangs beat Hawai'i at home 3-1 in front of a sold out Mott Athletics Center for the second straight season and its first three-match win streak over the Rainbow Wahine. After losing only one Big West match, the Mustangs went on to clinch its second straight Big West championship following a sweep over Cal State Fullerton on senior night to wrap up the regular season. From there, it was on to the NCAA Tournament.

Cal Poly drew San Diego in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the USC Sub-Regional. The Mustangs suffered some unfortunate luck after they found out the day of the match that they would be without their leader in kills and Big West Player of the Year Torrey Van Winden because of an injury. Despite their best efforts, the Mustangs were not able to overcome the absence of Van Winden and fell to the Toreros 3-1 to finish the season 25-3.

The season may have been over but the accolades were just getting started. Following one of the best individual seasons in program history, Torrey Van Winden was named the Big West Player of the Year, freshman setter Avalon DeNecochea was named Big West Co-Freshman of the Year and head coach Sam Crosson was named the Big West Coach of the Year for the second season in a row. It is the second time in program history that Cal Poly has won both Player of the Year and Coach of the Year in back-to-back years, with the last time happening in 2006-07. DeNecochea's Freshman of the Year Award is the fifth in school history and the first since 2015. Torrey Van Winden, along with senior Adlee Van Winden and sophomore Madilyn Mercer were named to the All-Big West First Team. Senior libero Katherine Brouker along with DeNecochea and Meredith Phillips were named All-Big West Honorable Mention. Phillips and DeNecochea were also named to the Big West All-Freshman Team.

A few weeks later, both Torrey and Adlee Van Winden were named to the Pacific North AVCA All-Region First Team. Both were also named AVCA Honorable Mention All-Americans for the second straight year, becoming just the second and third Mustangs to do so.

Statistically, Cal Poly finished the season ranked first in the Big West in hitting percentage (seventh in the nation), opponent hitting percentage, kills, assists and blocks. Individually, Torrey Van Winden was second in the Big West and was third in the nation in kills per set (5.07) and led the conference in hitting percentage (.365). Mercer led the Big West in blocks per set (1.11) and DeNecochea was second in the conference in assists per set (10.31).

Cal Poly will lose two players from this year's team to graduation. Outside hitter Adlee Van Winden, who started every match all four years, never missing a set and finishes her career fifth in program history in career kills (1,372) and eighth in career kills per set (3.46), and libero Katherine Brouker, who led the team in digs the past three seasons and is fourth in both career digs (1,560) and career digs per set (3.96).

"The impact that Adlee and Katherine have had on this program is unmeasurable, not only are both of them incredibly good volleyball players on the court but their leadership, competitive nature, and understanding of where the program once was and where we are heading is something we will certainly miss," Crosson said about the legacy Van Winden and Brouker leave. "It is rare to have players who have gone full circle with the building of a championship program and Adlee and Katherine have been there every step of the way. We are sad to see them leave but we know that the program is better now than when they arrived and that is one of the true hallmarks and what I will remember most about our two seniors."

Although the team will lose two important seniors, they will return four players who earned All-Big West honors and a total of 15 players next season, including five starters.

"We are excited and looking forward to another successful year in 2019. We have a strong core of returning players and a culture that continues to improve and produce quality results. We will challenge ourselves to keep making progress forward, we will continue to work hard and develop from within, and we will set our sights on becoming the 2019 Big West Conference Champions."

The Mustangs will seek the program's first Big West Championship three-peat starting next August.