NCAA beach countdown: No. 6 Cal Poly hopes to be “one of the biggest forces”

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Cal Poly volleyball 2/14/2020-Tia Miric

It’s all still a bit surreal to Tia Miric, the fact that she gets to go to practice, every single day, and learn under Todd Rogers. That Todd Rogers. The one she grew up watching win Olympic gold medals when she was a kid in Ontario, Canada.

“Having someone like Todd Rogers contact me, it was like a serious dream come true,” said Miric, who has been Cal Poly’s No. 1 pairs defender for the previous two seasons. “I always wanted to play beach volleyball in California so to have that and the Todd Rogers thing, I still can’t believe I play for him.”

It should come as a surprise to no one that Cal Poly’s program has been turned around since Rogers was hired in February 2016. He took over a program that was 3-23 in its first two seasons and has already turned it into an NCAA Championship contender. A year ago, despite a slew of injuries that forced Rogers to turn the roster upside down and inside out, the Mustangs won 25 matches, their first Big West title, and a berth to the NCAA Championships in Gulf Shores.

“We had a lot of injuries and a lot of ups and downs but something that we worked on heavily was team culture and changing the team culture from a school that people look at as an underdog to one of the biggest forces in the nation and I think we did a really good job of that, just persevering through the injuries,” Miric said. “We got to a point where we weren’t even fazed by the injuries.”

Miric, a 5-8 junior from Thornill, Ontario, is one of the foundational elements to the changing of Poly’s culture. Recruited out of Canada with the help of former Olympian John Childs, Miric was a No. 1 court starter as a true freshman, a task that might overwhelm some. Not Miric. Already, she had been on stages bigger than the top court at Cal Poly, which is no disrespect to Poly, but a nod to the level at which Miric had been playing.

In 2014, Miric competed in two Junior FIVBs, in Poland and Cyprus with Sophie Bukovec, now a rising star in Canada’s pipeline. In Poland, Miric would compete against some of the best in the world today, players such as Brazil’s Eduarda Lisboa Duda and Sara Hughes, the recent gold medalist at the Siem Reap two-star. In Cyprus, site of the Junior World Championships, Miric and Bukovec beat a number of current Olympic hopefuls in bringing home Canada’s first World Championship gold medal.

“I’ve been playing beach volleyball since I was 8, 10 years old and I’ve competed internationally since I was 12 years old for Canada,” Miric said. “I represented Canada on the world stage and so coming into Cal Poly, I had already been on the world stage at a very high level. I had competed with girls as professionals before I was in college so coming into college I was pretty confident in my ability to compete at the highest level.”

Consider that confidence vindicated. As a true freshman, Miric, partnered with Torrey Van Winden, finished 19-8 and was named AVCA All-American. The following year, she partnered with Crissy Jones — now the graduate assistant coach — after Van Winden was ruled out with a concussion, Miric went 22-8 and her and Jones were awarded the Big West Pair of the Year.

Cal Poly beach 2/14/2020-Todd Rogers
Olympic gold medalist Todd Rogers has engineered the resurgent Mustangs/Cal Poly photo

“She’s been a fixture, and it’s been great because the other defenders on the team see her and say ‘Oh, this is the level we need to play at. This is the exactness that our passing, our defense, our shots, etc. need to be,’” Rogers said. “They can see what that’s like, so she’s raised a lot of boats amongst our defenders.”

Now Miric and the Mustangs — a finally healthy Mustang roster — are primed to become one of the most formidable teams in the country. Jones, an AVP semifinalist at this past year’s Hermosa Beach Open, has graduated, yes, but Rogers returns nine starters from the 2019 team while getting both Van Windens — Torrey and Adlee — back as well as adding transfers Hannah Rogers and Mariah Whalen, and Josie Ulrich.

Torrey Van Winden was a star indoors, and the 6-3 senior from Napa, California, has always been regarded as a beach player with an unlimited ceiling. Adlee is a 6-1 senior. Rogers, a 5-8 product of Santa Ynez, California, transferred from TCU. Whalen, a 6-1 product of Wausau, Wisconsin, transferred from Wisconsin, and Ulrich is a 5-7 freshman from Ventura, California.

“I’m smiling while you’re saying all this because I’m so excited,” Miric said after hearing the Poly roster said aloud. “I think our team is going to be insanely good this year. I’m so excited for season to start. We’re five days into practice, and everyone on the team is looking to the next court and we’ll literally turn to each other and say ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to be amazing.’

“I think last year coming in as a smaller team, our goal was more geared towards going to (Gulf Shores) Alabama for the first time and doing our best when we get there and this year there’s higher standards and we’re going for that national championship.”

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