The Cal Poly women’s volleyball team’s season officially ended on Sunday after failing to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. It marks the third-straight year the Mustangs will not play in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior and middle hitter Dominique Olowolafe said the team was devastated but that she is “blessed” to be a part of the team.
“Everyone is pretty heartbroken,” she said. “We were pretty excited about competing against some of the top teams in the nation. I want everyone to keep their heads high, because I’m really proud of what we accomplished this year.”
The team battled through injuries to post a 22-7 overall record, going 12-4 in conference. A big win over Arizona opened the Mustangs season, but the late loss to Cal State Fullerton on what head coach Jon Stevenson said was one of the teams’ “off nights,” knocked the team out of postseason play.
“It’s obviously disappointing and not the way we wanted our season to end, but I felt we played great and had a good time,” said freshman outside hitter Kristina Graven. “We did what we did and it was left up to (the selection committee).”
Fullerton, the winner of the Big West, earned an automatic bid while Long Beach State, which lost twice to the Mustangs, was the only other Big West team to make the tournament.
“More than anything I just want to focus on the fact that this team I believe was playing at a level — at the end of the season — that was equal to one of the top 25 teams in the country,” Stevenson said at Monday’s press conference. “I was disappointed that the girls couldn’t keep playing and especially for (Dominique Olowolafe) and (Alison Mort), who were just so great for this program that they didn’t get a chance to keep competing.”
The Mustangs lost seniors Olowolafe and libero Alison Mort in the offseason. Olowolafe, who broke her finger early in the season, returned to her usual form midway through the season as she still mananged to rack up 213 kills and was awarded her third first-team all conference honor. Her .342 hitting percentage was second on the team, only outdone by sophomore middle blocker Jennifer Keddy who hit .364.
Olowolafe’s injury was just one of many for the team this season and as the season neared its end, the Mustangs were just finally getting healthy. It’s something, Stevenson said, that would have helped the Mustangs come tournament time.
“We would have been healthy for the NCAA Tournament,” Stevenson said. “Who knows what would have happened.”
Next season, the Mustangs will be in search of a new libero with the departure of Mort, who walked on to the team her freshman year earning her way onto the court. She accumulated 558 digs, nearly a third of the team’s season total and was recognized as an honorable mention for the Big West all conference team.
Fortunately for the Mustangs, two first-team all conference members, Graven and Keddy, will return to the court in 2011. Graven, the team leader in kills, was also awarded Big West Freshman of the Year.
“I was really excited (when I found out),” Graven said. “It’s a great award to receive. It was really cool and I was happy when I found out.”
She said that although the Mustangs will miss Olowolafe and Mort, the team has a group of returners that will form the backbone of a team that will be a contender for the 2011 tournament.
Junior Catie Smith also received an honorable mention from the Big West. She was second on the team in kills with 349, one more than Keddy, while posting 2.31 digs per set.
The Mustangs were 3-3 this year against teams which made it into the NCAA Tournament, as they beat Arizona and lost to Nebraska in non-conference play.
The last time the team played in the postseason was 2007 after going 15-1 in conference, and they won two games before being eliminated in the Sweet Sixteen.
In the first round, Fullerton plays Colorado State at Stanford while Long Beach State makes a trip to Los Angeles to face the University of San Diego for the NCAA championship.