The Cal volleyball team had plenty to prove over the weekend, in particular that it has the ability to hang in with Pac-12 competition. But this seems to be in jeopardy, as the Bears have lost their first two matches against Pac-12 opponents. Their most recent loss came against No. 13 UCLA at home, where they lost in three straight sets (25-20, 27-25, 25-16).
“I don’t think we played anywhere near the level that we played with in our last match,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “We didn’t have the same energy or team chemistry to make the right plays when it mattered.”
The Bears weren’t able to produce enough offense or defense to keep themselves in the game against the Bruins. Senior middle blocker Lara Vukasovic and sophomore outside hitter Christine Alftin led Cal on offense the entire match, finishing the day with eight kills a piece. But the fact that no Bear was able to reach double-digit kills significantly hurt the team’s chances of winning the game.
UCLA, on the other hand, had two players end the day with 10 kills or more. The Bruins were led by junior outside hitter Jordan Anderson, who finished the match with a whopping 20 kills and a .515 hitting percentage. Sophomore outside hitter Reily Buechler followed closely behind, ending the day with 11 kills and a .429 hitting percentage. The explosive offense of the Bruins hurt the Bears the entire match.
But Cal had several opportunities to take control of the match, despite UCLA’s tough offense.
The Bears came out swinging against the Bruins, but they weren’t able to continue this energy throughout the entire first set. Cal jumped out to a 14-8 lead, but Anderson then stepped up for the Bruins when it mattered most and scored a whopping eight kills from that point on. She lead the Bruins to a 25-20 first set victory, silencing Haas Pavilion in the process.
The second and third sets were all about the poor defense of the Bears and their inability to stop UCLA’s aggressive attack. The only substantial defensive performance of the day came from junior libero Maddy Kerr, who finished the match with 11 digs. Kerr was the only Bear to finish the game with double-digit digs, making it impossible to defeat the red-hot Bruins.
“Our defensive play was pretty disappointing because I believe we can play a lot better than that, which we’ve proved in other games this year,” Kerr said.
The second set of the match was the closest one of the entire day, as both teams were neck and neck all the way to the end. With the second set tied, 25-25, the defense for Cal once again showed its flaws, allowing Anderson to score the 26th point. Redshirt senior Lillian Schonewise unfortunately followed this up with an attack error, handing over the second set to the Bruins.
The heartbreaking second-set loss completely deflated the Bears heading into the third set. Cal showed no energy at all in the final set, and for the first time all day, it appeared as if the team didn’t even belong on the same court as UCLA. Cal’s defense was nonexistent at this point in the match, as it was unable to hold back the Bruins’ persistent offense. Buechler led the Bruins in the set by finishing with a total of five kills, contributing to her team’s lopsided 25-16 third-set win.
The Bears are now one game below .500 for the season (6-7), but more importantly, they fall to 0-2 against conference competition. Cal will have to turn things around heading into this week if it wants any chance of making an impact in the Pac-12.
“This team needs to understand that they’re good, and they don’t need to not compete just because a team got a few points on them,” Feller said.
Alex Quintana covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]