The Cal Poly beach volleyball program made historic strides in the 2018 season. The team finished with a record above .500 for the first time in the program's young history (it began in 2014), going 27-7 and reaching its highest ranking ever at No. 4 in the nation.
After going through months of hard training and practices, the Mustangs began its season in mid-February by taking on four opponents ranked in the top 10 in its first five matches. One of those was No. 2 Pepperdine. Cal Poly would go on to beat the Waves 3-2; the highest-ranked opponent it's ever beat. After winning three of those matches, they would get hot, winning 14 straight matches. During that winning streak, they beat five teams who were ranked inside the AVCA Top 20.
At the end of March, the team traveled to Sacramento to compete in the Big West Challenge and see where they stacked up against conference opponents. They would prove how good they were by going 4-1, including three sweeps and a 3-2 victory over then No. 5 Long Beach State.
They continued their strong play the following weekend when they traveled to Palo Alto, where they took on three opponents ranked in the top 20. They would beat two of those opponents, Stanford and Saint Mary's.
After finishing the regular season 25-5, it was on to the Big West Tournament in Honolulu. The Mustangs entered the tournament at the No. 2 seed. After having a first round bye, they faced Long Beach State. The match would come down to two points, with the 49ers winning 3-2. In the double-elimination format tournament that meant Cal Poly would have to win out to win the championship.
They would make quick work of both CSU Bakersfield and CSUN, winning both matches 5-0. That would put them in the semifinals of the tournament, facing Long Beach State yet again. Despite tough battles with multiple matches going to three sets, the 49ers would once again come out on top and eliminate the Mustangs.
That would not be the end of their season, however. The next day the Big West put on its first Pairs Tournament, selecting the conferences' top 16 pairs and let them compete to see who the best in the Big West was. Cal Poly had three pairs in the tournament: Torrey Van Winden/Tiadora Miric, Emily Sonny/Samantha Manley and Adlee Van Winden/Taylor Nelson.
All three pairs would win their first round matches. Miric and Torrey Van Winden along with Nelson and Adlee Van Winden both reached the semifinals against different teams with a chance to have an all Cal Poly championship. Miric and Torrey Van Winden would win to advance while Nelson and Adlee Van Winden fell. In the championship Miric and Torrey Van Winden would face a familiar foe, Long Beach State's No. 1 pairing of Nele Barber and Sasha Karelov. Miric and Van Winden had already played them twice over the weekend in the Big West Team Tournament, with the 49ers winning both matches. Barber and Karelov took the first set 21-17 and held a 12-9 lead at one point in the second set. However, Miric and Van Winden would rally back to win the second set 21-18 to force a deciding third set. The Mustangs would take a 8-5 lead in the third to force a Long Beach State timeout and would not look back from there, winning 15-9 to win the championship and make history as the conference's first pairs champions.
When asked about his team, head coach Todd Rogers said he was proud of the resolve they showed this year. "They have had to fight an uphill battle as the underdog to get respect," Rogers said. "I'm proud of them because they have fought that fight with honesty and integrity regardless of the challenges they have faced. In the end, they became the ones with the bullseye on their backs. The team that others wanted to take down. In sports, that is what a team strives for."
2018 was also a season that saw many new pairs and individual records. Cal Poly's No. 2 pair of Emily Sonny and Samantha Manley finished the season with 29 wins, the most in a single season in the program's history.
This year's team also included many of the program's record holders, including having the top three individuals with the most wins. Adlee Van Winden holds the top spot with 62 career wins, Taylor Nelson finishes her career second with 60 career wins, Raeann Greisen ends her career third with 46 career wins and senior Hannah Hubbard ends her career fourth with 41 wins. The Mustangs' No. 3 pair of Nelson and Adlee Van Winden has the most career wins by a pair in program history with 55.
When asked about the legacy of the three seniors, Rogers said he is proud of the culture they have created. "They are the building blocks of which the program was built upon," Rogers noted. "All three have contributed at multiple positions over the years they have been here. They also paved the foundation of accountability that now permeates and is the norm for the program. Their collective work ethic was second to none. When they became upper class women the freshmen looked to them for guidance and they showed them the Mustang Way. Now that is the norm and their legacy will continue."
The loss of three seniors who are all in the top five in all-time wins is going to be tough but Rogers thinks the program has a lot to be excited about. "The future is certainly bright," Rogers said. "We lose 3 fantastic seniors who cannot not be replaced. We will do our best with a group of young newbies eager to prove they can fill some big shoes. The original goal was to be top 10 and get to the NCAA Tournament in 3-5 years when I was hired. We cracked the top 5 in season three/ year two but have yet to get a bid to the big dance. I would argue we are a bit ahead of the original schedule. That being said, it would have been nice to get the invitation this year."
Cal Poly will look to accomplish that goal when the 2019 season begins in February.
-Provided by Cal Poly