The Big Spike is almost always the Cal volleyball team’s biggest home match of the year. This season is one of those rare exceptions. While the Sept. 13 cross-bay rivalry match pits two of the nation’s top teams, it loses some of its magnitude by coming so early in the season.
The match opens Pac-12 play after a very soft preseason for the Bears. Neither team will be firing on all cylinders, and the outcome will likely carry little weight to the NCAA Tournament selection committee due to its timing.
Its allure also fades a bit by being scheduled on a Tuesday rather than Friday night. The crowd is usually the largest all year for the rivalry match, but will inevitably be diminished in the middle of the week.
Instead, Cal fans will likely pack Haas Pavilion on Oct. 29th when USC comes to town.
The Trojans were the only team to really have the Bears’ number last season, delivering two of Cal’s three conference losses — a five-set heartbreaker in Los Angeles, followed by a four-set trouncing in Berkeley.
Rich Feller’s club did not have an answer for USC’s dynamic duo on the outside, All-American Alex Jupiter and Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Falyn Fonoimoana. … That is, until the Final Four.
Going into that postseason match, announcers proclaimed Jupiter and Fonoimoana to be the country’s best outside tandem. On any other night, they might have been.
Cal’s All-American Tarah Murrey and then-freshman Adrienne Gehan outshone two of the nation’s brightest stars, combining for 37 kills. Jupiter and Fonoimoana tallied 14 together in the three-set decision that propelled the Bears into the national title game.
All four of these stellar outside hitters return this season, which will lead to a high-powered attack on both sides of the net.
The Cal attackers’ success will rest largely in the hands of junior setter Elly Barrett, who steps into the starting role with the departure of National Player of the Year Carli Lloyd. Time will tell if Barrett can develop the same connection with her hitters that Lloyd did.
The Trojans have the advantage of familiarity with their setter. Senior Kendall Bateman, a second-team All-American last year, returns to anchor their offense.
Both squads will have something more to prove than just the strength of their setters. The Trojans will want revenge over the team that ended their campaign last year, and the Bears will want to show their postseason domination wasn’t a one-time occurrence.
The teams will have already met in Los Angeles a month earlier, adding more fuel to the fire.