SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Coming off its second straight Big West title and NCAA Tournament appearance a year ago, 23rd-ranked Cal Poly opens its 2019 season Friday with two matches at the University of Utah Tournament in Salt Lake City.
The No. 23 Mustangs, who went 25-3 overall and 15-1 in the Big West in 2018, begin their season Friday at 9 a.m. PT against No. 7 Kentucky inside the Huntsman Center. They then take on Saint Mary's later that same day at 4 p.m. PT.
Cal Poly wraps up the tournament Saturday at 4 p.m. PT against the host Utes. A live stream for all three matches can be viewed at this link.
This first tournament will see the Mustangs face three teams who all made the NCAA Tournament last season.
The No. 7 Wildcats had one of their best seasons in program history last year. They finished 26-5 overall and 18-0 in the SEC. They made it to their second straight Sweet 16 before losing to eventual runner-up Nebraska. They return reigning SEC Player of the Year Leah Edmond, reigning SEC Freshman of the Year Alli Stumler, and reigning SEC Libero of the Year Gabby Curry. Cal Poly is 1-1 all-time against Kentucky, with the last meeting coming back in 1981
The Gaels had one of their better seasons in program history, finishing 19-10 overall and 11-7 in the WCC. They made their seventh NCAA Tournament, losing in the first round to Washington. The Mustangs are 9-4 all-time against Saint Mary's, with the last meeting being back in 2014.
Utah went 19-14 overall and 10-10 in the PAC-12 last season. They beat Denver in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing in the second round to BYU. Cal Poly is 12-5 all-time against the Utes, with the last meeting coming back in 2014.
Mustangs Earn Preseason Top 25 Ranking: For the second straight year, Cal Poly is ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Preseason Top 25 Poll, capturing the 23rd spot.
After going 25-3 last year, the Mustangs ended the season ranked No. 22 in the final AVCA Top 25 Poll. At one point during the season they were ranked as high as No. 11, the highest ranking the program has had since 2008. In last year's AVCA Preseason Poll they were ranked No. 24.
Cal Poly Picked To Three-Peat As Big West Champion: Coming off its second consecutive Big West championship in 2018, the Mustangs were selected to three-peat in 2019 after receiving five first-place votes and a total of 77 points.
Hawai'i, who finished second last season, was picked to finish second this season. They received four first-place votes and a total of 76 points. UC Santa Barbara (59 points), UC Irvine (52 points), and Long Beach State (46 points) rounded out the rest of the top five.
In the last two seasons, Cal Poly has gone 31-1 in conference matches. This would be the first Big West three-peat in program history. Overall, the Mustangs have won the Big West five times: 1984, 2006, 2007, 2017, 2018.
Tough Non-Conference Schedule: Cal Poly has 12 matches on its non-conference schedule this season. Seven of those matches are against teams who finished inside the RPI Top 50 and made the NCAA Tournament last season.
Home Sweet Home: The Mustangs have won 21 straight home matches at Mott Athletics Center. That is the longest in program history and third-longest active streak in Division I behind only BYU (24) and Stanford (36).
Cal Poly went undefeated at home last season for the second straight year. In 2017, they went a perfect 8-0. The Mustangs' home winning streak began Nov. 11, 2016 and last lost at home Oct. 28, 2016 to UC Santa Barbara.
The Mustangs also had the second-highest average home attendance last season amongst Division I schools in California, trailing only Stanford.
Returning Power: Although the program lost two key all-conference players to graduation, the Mustangs return 14 players from last year's team — including five starters.
Reigning Big West Player of the Year and AVCA All-American opposite hitter Torrey Van Winden returns for her senior season. Last year, Van Winden was second in the Big West and third in the nation in kills per set (5.07) and led the conference in hitting percentage (.365). Her 5.07 kills per set was the second-highest single-season average in program history. In addition, she also owns the third-spot in that category for her 2017 average of 4.83.
Junior Madilyn Mercer returns following an All-Big West First Team sophomore season. Mercer led the conference in blocks last season at 1.12 blocks per set. She had a match last season at Hawai'i that saw her total 11 block assists, just two shy of tying a program record. She was also fourth on the team in kills and 10th in the Big West in hitting percentage (.289).
Sophomores Avalon DeNecochea and Meredith Phillips come back looking to continue with the success they had in their rookie campaigns. DeNecochea was named Big West Co-Freshman of the Year (the first Mustang since 2015), All-Conference Honorable Mention and All-Freshman Team after filling the void at the setter position previously held by Taylor Nelson and directing the Cal Poly offense to the best hitting percentage in the Big West and seventh-highest in the nation at .295. DeNecochea was second in the conference in assists per set at 10.32 and was fourth on the team in both blocks and digs.
Phillips, a middle blocker, was named to the Big West All-Freshman Team and All-Conference Honorable Mention after finishing third on the team in kills and second in blocks. She also had the fifth-highest hitting percentage in the Big West at .325.
Mustangs Among Big West and National Leaders: Statistically as a team, Cal Poly was amongst the leaders in multiple categories both in the Big West and nationally last season.
The Mustangs ranked first in the Big West in hitting percentage (seventh in the nation) at .290, opponent hitting percentage (.177), kills per set (13.76), assists per set (12.88) and blocks per set (2.45).
New(ish) Head Coach: In December, Cal Poly hired Caroline Walters to become the new head volleyball coach. However, Walters is no stranger to the program. This is now her 11th year with the program, having been both an assistant coach/associate head coach since 2009.
This is also not her first experience as head coach. Three matches into the 2011 season, Walters was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season after Jon Stevenson was let go. Heading into her first full-time gig as head coach, she has a career record of 9-16.
Follow The Mustangs: Tickets are available at GoPoly.com, by calling (805) 756-4849 or by visiting the sidewalk window at the on-campus Performing Arts Center from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday.
Upcoming home matches in Mott Athletics Center feature several community events and fan giveaways:
Sept. 6 (Fri., 7 p.m.) • vs. Wichita State
2018 Big West Champions banner ceremony
Oct. 4 (Fri., 7 p.m.) • vs. UC Riverside
Youth Night – all kids 13-and-under receive free admission, with a postgame autograph session with the team courtside
Oct. 5 (Sat., 7 p.m.) • vs. UC Davis
Double-Up Saturday, the match is free to anyone showing a ticket for the football game vs. Montana State.
Oct. 11 (Fri., 7 p.m.) • vs. Hawai'i
High School Volleyball Night / Whiteout – The first 500 fans will receive white Cal Poly volleyball shirts.
Nov. 9 (Sat., 7 p.m.) • vs. UCSB
Blue-Green Rivalry / Alumni Night
Nov. 22 (Fri., 7 p.m.) • vs. UC Irvine
Faculty & Staff Appreciation Night: All Cal Poly instructors and staff receive free tickets.
Nov. 23 (Sat., 5 p.m.) • vs. Cal State Fullerton
Families are also encouraged to sign up for Mustang Kids Club ($10 per child/8th grade or under), as benefits include ongoing free admission to all regular-season soccer, volleyball, wrestling & women's basketball events along with select football, men's basketball and baseball games; plus invitations to exclusive events, birthday cards, free ice cream from Doc Burnstein's and a T-Shirt.
Cal Poly students always get into games for free, and are also invited to join the Stang Gang. Stang Gang — Cal Poly's student fan group — features several rewards for a $10 one-time lifetime registration fee, including prizes from sponsors, a member T-Shirt, and more upon reaching point levels by checking in at games.