During a sloppy night of volleyball, all the Bears had to do was not beat themselves to claim a victory over Arizona.
The Wildcats (10-4, 0-2 Pac-12) came into Berkeley on Friday night looking for their first conference win, but they couldn’t correct their own mistakes and mental errors and instead handed Cal (8-3, 1-1 Pac-12) its own first victory in the conference in just three sets (25-23, 25-14, 25-23). The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Bears after the team began the season with seven straight victories.
“We played well at times and a little rocky at times,” said Cal coach Rich Feller after the match. “But it’s good to have the win.”
The first set could not have been more close.
Though the Bears outhit the Wildcats .333 to .244 in that opening set, the match continued to swing back and forth in a nearly synchronized fashion as the set was tied on 19 separate occasions.
Arizona committed eight errors in that opening set and were only able to keep pace with the Bears by hitting six more kills. Still, Cal was able to take the set 25-23.
In the second set, Arizona’s hitting percentage slipped to .026, and Cal dominated. The Wildcats committed another eight errors and this time was not able to cover up their mistakes. Cal had runs of six points and five points to eventually win the set by 11.
Many of Arizona’s errors during that stretch did not show up on the stat sheet. One memorable example occurred when Maddy Kerr, Cal’s freshman libero, served an ace in the second set. Kerr’s serves are not intimidating, as she hits the ball high over the net to the center of the court nearly every time. But on one play, two Arizona players looked dumbfounded at each other as the ball hit the court, giving Kerr her first ace of her career.
“It’s not a secret that she’s serving there,” said Feller. “Maddy played some pretty good defense, too. She got some pancakes and digs.”
Those kind of mental mistakes — such as letting uncontested balls hit the floor — defined the match. But it was Cal making those kind of miscues in the third set.
The hitting percentages in the final set — .061 for Cal and .070 for Arizona — express the sloppiness that defined both teams’ play. Arizona once again committed a high number of errors, with seven in that set. But the Bears were just as undisciplined, with 11 errors.
Cal was down 19-13 and it looked like the match would get pushed to a fourth set, when someone flipped a switch for the Bears. Cal went on a 10-1 run in which the team successfully blocked Arizona three times. The Bears now had a 23-20 advantage and eventually rode that comeback to a 25-23 victory, clinching the match.
“I liked how we came back with a lot of fire and didn’t give up on the set,” said senior setter Joan Caloiaro after the match.
“The blocking was perfect at the end — you couldn’t ask for anything more.”