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Mustangs Take Unbeaten Conference Record to Santa Barbara Saturday

Mustangs Take Unbeaten Conference Record to Santa Barbara Saturday

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Coming off its first-ever sweep over then No. 19 Hawai'i at home last week, the Cal Poly volleyball team will embark on the first three consecutive road matches this weekend when it takes its 6-0 Big West record to Santa Barbara to take on second-place UC Santa Barbara for a battle for first-place.

The Mustangs (13-5, 6-0 BW) will travel to face the Gauchos (15-2, 5-1) on Saturday at 7 p.m. inside the Thunderdome. Cal Poly volleyball radio play-by-play announcer Zachary Anderson-Yoxsimer will be on the call starting at 6:45 p.m. Links for audio, video and live stats can be found above or on the schedule page.

The match will pit the teams who are currently in first and second place in the Big West. This will be the first installment of the Blue-Green rivalry this season. In the last three seasons, Cal Poly has won five out of the last six matches, including the previous four. Overall, the Gauchos lead the all-time series 49-33.

The Mustangs are coming off a 3-0 win over then No. 19 Hawai'i last Friday at Mott Athletics Center. For the third straight year, the match was sold out and help push Cal Poly to its first-ever sweep over the Rainbow Wahine. The win included a comeback victory in the second set in which the Mustangs were down 22-24 before scoring four points in a row to win the set 26-24. Maia Dvoracek led the Mustangs with a match-high 16 kills. She has now recorded double figure kills in her last eight matches. Sophomore defensive specialist Lea Ungar had a career-high 14 digs on her to way to winning her first Big West Defensive Player of the Week award.

The two-time defending Big West champs have now defeated Hawai'i at home each of the last three seasons and have won four of the last five matches overall. It was also the Mustangs' second win over an AVCA Top 25 team this season.

Cal Poly now switches its focus to a UCSB team that is off to one of its best starts in years. The Gauchos are 15-2 overall and are 5-1 in Big West play. The night after Cal Poly swept Hawai'i, UCSB was swept at home by the Rainbow Wahine, snapping a 13-match winning streak and handing them their first conference loss of the season.

In the latest AVCA Top 25 poll, both Cal Poly and UCSB were in the 'others receiving votes' category, with UCSB at 32 and Cal Poly at 33.

Once again, the Gauchos are led this season by senior outside hitter Lindsey Ruddins, who is first in the Big West and 25th in the nation in kills per set at 4.32. She is coming off 12 kills in the loss to Hawai'i. Elsewhere, junior middle blocker Rowan Ennis is first in the Big West in blocks at with a 1.39 per set average and is second in hitting percentage at .375 while sophomore libero Zoe Fleck is second in the conference in digs at 4.03 per set.

As a team UCSB leads the conference in hitting percentage (.258), opponent hitting percentage (.158), assists (12.98), and kills (13.89).

Cal Poly In the National Rankings: In the most recent AVCA Top 25 Poll, the Mustangs jumped back into the 'others receving votes' category. They received 12 votes and are ranked No. 33 overall.

Elsewhere in the Big West, Hawai'i is ranked No. 22 and UCSB was also in the 'others receiving votes' category with 14 votes and are No. 32 overall.

In the latest RPI release, Cal Poly moved up 11 spots to No. 39. The Rainbow Wahine are currently No. 9 while the Gauchos are No. 36.

Mustangs Among Big West and National Leaders: Through the first six weeks of the season, the Mustangs have been one of the toughest teams from the service line. Junior outside hitter Maia Dvoracek is currently second in the nation in aces with 45. As a team, Cal Poly ranks sixth in the nation and first in the Big West in aces per set at 1.91.

Currently, the Mustangs rank third in the Big West in blocks at 2.17 per set and fourth in opponent hitting percentage at .193.

Individually, Dvoracek is fifth in the conference in kills per set at 3.84. Sophomore setter Avalon DeNecochea is third in assists at 8.96 per set. Defensively, sophomore middle blocker Meredith Phillips is sixth in blocks per set at 1.00 with junior middle blocker Madilyn Mercer right behind her in eighth at 0.94. Senior libero Mika Dickson ranks fifth in the Big West in digs per set at 3.50.

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).

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 had 12 matches on its non-conference schedule this season. Seven of those matches were against teams who finished inside the RPI Top 50 and made the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Mustangs ended non-conference with a 7-5 record, including a win over then No. 16 Utah.

In total, the Mustangs played four matches against teams ranked inside the AVCA Top 25.

Home Sweet Home: The Mustangs have won 28 straight home matches at Mott Athletics Center. That is the longest streak in program history and longest active streak in Division I.

Cal Poly went undefeated at home last season (10-0) for the second straight year. In 2017, they went a perfect 8-0. The Mustangs' home winning streak began Nov. 11, 2016 and they last lost at home Oct. 28, 2016 to UC Santa Barbara.

Cal Poly has been dominate at home during this stretch. Nine of their last 11 wins at Mott have come via the sweep.

The Mustangs also had the second-highest average home attendance last season amongst Division I schools in California, trailing only Stanford.

Streaking Stangs: Cal Poly is currently riding an eight-match win streak. The Mustangs have also won 12 consecutive Big West matches dating back to last season.

Starting Strong: The Mustangs are undefeated this season when they have won the first set. In fact, 12 of Cal Poly's 13 wins this season have come when they won the opening set.

Seven of the Mustangs' wins have come via sweep. Five have come in five-set victories and one in four sets.

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.

New(ish) Head Coach: In December, Cal Poly hired Caroline Walters to become the new head volleyball coach. However, Walters is no stranger to Cal Poly. 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.

Mustangs On ESPN3: Cal Poly will play two road matches this season that will be aired on ESPN3. The first will be the match against UC Irvine on September 28 at 7 p.m. The other will be November 15 at 7 p.m. when the Mustangs travel to take on CSUN. Both matches can be streamed on ESPN3.com and WatchESPN.

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 events and fan giveaways:

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
Senior Night

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, 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.

Photo courtesy of Matt Aguirre