CSUSB v CPP, CCAA Volleyball Tournament, at CSULA, Women’s Volleyball

CPP volleyball bests Seawolves, falls to Yotes in CCAA Tournament

By David Pendleton and Christian Malone, Dec. 5, 2023

After sweeping the Sonoma State Seawolves in the quarterfinals, Cal Poly Pomona’s volleyball team fell to tournament champions Cal State San Bernardino in the CCAA Tournament semifinals Nov. 17.

After placing fourth in the conference with a record of 13-5 over the course of the regular season, CPP took on fifth-seed Sonoma State Nov. 16.

What started out as a competitive fight in the first set turned into a blowout as CPP repeatedly attacked Sonoma with kills from different angles. Setter Caitie Mueller racked up her 1000th assist of the season as she helped the Broncos move on to the semifinals.

“I honestly couldn’t do it without them,” said Mueller. “It means a lot; I’ve been getting good passes from my passers, and then Maddy (Madison Novak) and all my hitters are putting it away.”

Head coach Traci Dahl was impressed with the team’s performance all night and credited the team’s success to their committed blocks and defense.

“I thought we played really hard out there tonight,” said Dahl. “This last week of practice we’ve been extremely focused; all year we’ve been battling adversity after adversity, and tonight it came together.”

The score remained close early in the first set with the Broncos and Seawolves exchanging kills and trying to create separation in points. A combination of key blocks and strong kills from Sonoma State outside hitter Kiana Richardson eventually gave the Seawolves a 12-9 lead, forcing the Broncos to play catch-up midway through the first set.

With the Seawolves ready to run off with their 20-16 lead, Mueller assisted both middle blocker Kaitlan Tucker and outside hitter Novak for back-to-back kills.

With a surge of momentum going in the Broncos’ favor, the Seawolves made critical errors, allowing the Broncos to tie the set 20-20. With the pressure at a fever pitch, Novak went up for an aggressive kill the Seawolves’ defense initially blocked. But just as it looked like the point was going to land in the Seawolves’ favor, Novak hit the ball back to take the lead. The Broncos then closed out the first set 25-21.

The second set started as a thrill with both teams engaging in long rallies. Bronco opposite hitter Daisy Duke made her presence known with touch shots, blocks and aggressive spikes. Sonoma State panicked with missed kill attempts, giving CPP a 17-12 lead. The Broncos refused to let the Seawolves come back the same way they did in the first set, creating a wall of strong blocks. Ultimately, Duke took away all confidence from Sonoma State with a finishing kill to end the second set 25-17.

With all the air sucked out of the room for Sonoma State, CPP came into the third set committed to securing its 14th sweep of the season. Even when the Seawolves attempted to get on the scoreboard early, CPP outside hitter Samantha Campion blocked Seawolf defensive specialist Kaden Young’s spike right back into her face, giving the Broncos a 3-0 lead.

“We talked about peaking at the right moment, and we’ve had our struggles this season, but I really do think we’re getting better every single day,” said Novak. “I think tonight we knew no matter what, we were going to win.”

The Seawolves gave everything they had to come back in the third set, with Sonoma State outside hitter Jaden Krist serving CPP with a heavy kill to bring them within three points at 19-16. But the Broncos quickly responded, with Novak eventually finishing off the third set by burying back-to-back kills to end it 25-18.

With the Broncos feeling confident in their ability to take on a rival in San Bernardino, Dahl emphasized the mindset going into the semifinals.

“We’re not looking at San Bernardino any differently than Sonoma,” said Dahl. “It’s the next match. We’ve done this before. We know what to expect.”

In the first set of the semifinal match the next day, neither team secured a sizable lead early on. With the score level at 8-8, however, San Bernardino finally broke through with a 6-1 scoring run. Luckily, CPP responded with a run of its own thanks to two kills by Duke and a service ace by defensive specialist Jenna O’Shea.

The teams continued trading runs deep into the match until CPP narrowed San Bernardino’s lead to just 19-18. Just as CPP looked set for a comeback, San Bernardino capitalized on two attacking errors to set off another 6-1 scoring run, winning the set 25-19.

The second set similarly saw the teams trade points early on, with neither side securing a sizable lead despite numerous early attack errors by CPP.

With the score tied 14-14, the Broncos regrouped and cut down on their attack errors to slowly build a 20-18 lead. But in a reversal of the first set, the Broncos took advantage of Yote errors to set off a scoring run with San Bernardino’s only point in the late game coming by way of a single service error. CPP tied the game with a 25-19 victory in set two.

Set three began with a stalemate early on when the teams traded points up to a 7-7 scoreline. CPP finally set off a real scoring run thanks to back-to-back assists from Mueller, securing an 11-8 lead. The Yotes reorganized their defense and closed the gap thanks to two blocks from Yote opposite hitter Trinity Sheridan.

With the pressure now on CPP, the Broncos struggled to contain San Bernardino’s offense, and the Yotes slowly began to run away with the set. While CPP breathed some life back into the game with back-to-back kills to make it 22-18, it was too little too late, and San Bernardino won the set 25-19.

The fourth set was do or die for CPP, with the team needing a victory to keep their conference tournament chances alive.

The Broncos’ offense looked promising at first, rattling off a 4-0 scoring run early in the match thanks to a combination of stellar kills, blocks and service aces from Novak, middle blocker Alexia Athans and defensive specialist Avery Percival, respectively.

CPP’s lead was short lived as the Yotes broke through with a run of their own to secure a 9-6 lead, forcing the Broncos to play catch-up.

After trading points for a few minutes, CPP got a shot at redemption after three Yote attack errors brought the score level at 16-16.

In the end San Bernardino locked down its defense toward the end of the match, with CPP finding just two more kills throughout the set. Without any timeouts left, the Broncos never got a chance to regroup, and the Yotes brought CPP’s conference tournament run to a close with their 25-20 victory in set four.

Regardless of the result, CPP’s placement in the season bought a ticket to the NCAA DII West Region Championships. The Bronos made quick work of Point Loma Nazarene University Nov. 30, making program history by recording their 15th sweep of the season, the highest total ever recorded.

After the victory, CPP again faced Cal State San Bernardino in the regional and lost 3-1, bringing an end to the 2023 season. CPP capped off the year with an overall record of 22-8 and a conference record of 13-5.

Feature image courtesy of the California Collegiate Athletic Association

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