As the dog days of summer begin to wind down and the leaves slowly start to change color, the Bears decided it was time for a little fall cleaning. This past weekend, the Cal volleyball brought out the brooms, sweeping the Pacific tournament competition to improve to a 5-1 record.
The Bears’ shutouts of UCSD and Tarleton State, coupled with a nail-biting victory over the tournament’s host, the Pacific Tigers, helped Cal volleyball rebound from a disappointing loss to Tulane last week –– one the team hopes will be its last.
“A goal I had for our team was to finish preseason with only one loss. We already got that loss,” said senior Katie Smoot before her successful weekend. “My expectations for us will be to play hard the rest of preseason and not catch any more Ls.”
‘Catch any more Ls,’ they did not. Instead, they did a lot of catching their opponent’s serves before transitioning into a strong attack from Smoot or senior Mima Mirkovic.
The Bears met little resistance in Friday’s matchups, as Cal faced just one set where the winning margin was less than five over the two games. Smoot and Mirkovic were miraculous, combining for 42 kills on day one of the tournament, as they continue to prove themselves as one of the top duos in the Pac-12.
The blue and gold were incredibly efficient in their opener against UCSD, outhitting the Tritons .367 to .092 en route to a 25-20, 25-12, 25-14 victory. Perhaps most encouraging was Cal’s 7-2 ace advantage, which marked a solid step forward in an area that needed improvement from last weekend’s performance in the Tulane tournament. Of what he wanted to see from Cal in the preseason, head coach Sam Crosson made clear his priorities.
“A solidification of our serve and receive would be number one on my list,” Crosson said.
While Tarleton State put up a greater fight in the second set of the doubleheader, Cal’s continued efficiency and lack of errors (12 to the Texans’ 19) quickly put them away in three sets.
Similar to last weekend’s tournament, a pair of painless wins culminated in a harder-fought Saturday matchup against the tournament host. While the Bears couldn’t quite weather the Tulane Green Wave last week, they flipped the script back closer to home — their increased tenacity to finish the tournament on a win resulted in a big-time victory over a solid Pacific club.
A back and forth affair, the Bears and Tigers battled for control of the game, with each team alternatingly emerging victorious in the first few sets. Redshirt junior Bella Bergmark proved to be the deciding factor in giving Cal a late lead, as her consecutive kill and block propelled the Bears from a 22-all tie to a 25-23 victory in the third set, giving the squad a 2-1 lead over the Tigers.
Pacific would then storm back to take the fourth set, setting up a winner-take-all fifth set. The Bears, though pressed by Pacific’s ability to comeback into sets, ultimately remained unfazed, and managed to put down the Tigers by a score of 17-15.
Smoot and Mirkovic once again left their mark all over the court after recording 20 and 11 kills, respectively. Meanwhile, standout freshman Annalea Maeder continued to improve under the guidance of her experienced teammates, highlighted by her team-high 33 assists against just one error.
“Mima and I help the team dynamic, not in the sense that we’re the best players, but in the sense of seniority,” Smoot said. “When you’re a freshman, it’s hard to adjust right away. When there’s older girls, it’s nice to have those role models.”
As it becomes increasingly clear that the Bears are starting to catch their footing, the future looks bright for a Cal team that is trying to shake its 2020 demons. They will finally get to show off that improvement for fans at home this upcoming weekend, as the Bears host a tournament of their own.
The field, consisting of Nevada, North Dakota State and Butler, should provide some quality tests for the quickly aging volleyball squad. If the Bears can continue to take care of business and sweep through their preseason, however, they should be able to boast a clean and polished resume as conference play rolls on.
Noah Parker covers volleyball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.