Two problems have plagued the No. 4 Cal volleyball team for weeks — serving and passing.
In addition to refining technical skills, the Bears worked with a mental training coach to increase trust between players.
Coach Rich Feller was still not satisfied with Cal’s performance in last weekend’s two wins. Rather than focusing on trust levels, Feller appealed to his players’ competitive streak in this week’s preparation for Friday’s match against No. 15 Oregon.
In past practices, a server would simply try again if she missed her specified target. This week, however, missed serves equated to lost points in the scored scrimmage or drill.
“We’re adding new consequences for serving weak, and we’re getting lots more passing reps, trying to get it better,” Feller said. “We’re doing about the same number of drills, just typed a little bit different. There’s more consequences, there’s more specificity.”
The Bears (15-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12) will need to bring a staunch defense to Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, Ore., for their 7 p.m. tilt against the Ducks (12-2, 5-1) before heading to Corvallis, Ore., for a Sunday matinee against Oregon State (11-5, 3-3).
Last week, Oregon occupied the top spot in the conference, but a 3-0 loss to No. 3 Washington dropped the Ducks to a half-game out of first. With the defeat still fresh, Oregon is assured to come out firing against Cal.
“(The Ducks) are ready to redeem themselves,” Feller said. “We’ll be facing a couple teams that are very ready for us to show up in their gym.”
Oregon’s fans are expected to come out in force. The athletic department launched ticket promotions as part of “Beat Cal Week,” in an attempt to shatter the attendance record. The Bears, meanwhile, have yet to win a Pac-12 road match, with both of their losses coming in Los Angeles two weeks ago.
While they may have lost their place in the standings, the Ducks sit atop the leaderboard in kills per set, averaging 14.74, and setter Lauren Plum set the benchmark for assists.
Cal counters with junior setter Elly Barrett, who sits just two notches below Plum but has paced the squad to the top attack rate in the conference.
Oregon’s notoriously fast offense has been critical to the team’s success, including a stunning 3-1 upset over defending national champion Penn State to open the season.
Feller said Oregon’s attack would be the quickest one the Bears have faced this season, further stressing the Cal defense.
“We’re going to have to speed up our defensive movements,” Feller said. “Just the speed of our transitional defense. Getting from offense to defense a little faster, getting into position a little faster, setting our blocks faster.”
With an unusual day in between matches, the Bears had more time to prepare specifically for Oregon. Feller plans to devote a relaxed Saturday to get ready for Oregon State, rather than cramming scouting both opponents during the week.
But Cal was likely focusing more on its own side of the net this week, looking to put the serving and passing woes behind them.
“They’re as anxious to find the answers,” Feller said. “We expect more from ourselves.”