Cal volleyball experiences abysmal season, looks to improve upon returning players’ strengths

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Jessica Gleason/File

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The three-set loss to No. 2 USC last Friday marked the end to one of the worst seasons in program history for the Cal volleyball team — a season that saw them go 9-22, only winning three matches against Pac-12 opponents.

Although the Bears won one less match this year, they were able to add an additional conference win to what they accomplished in 2014.

The best and worst of Cal was on display this year. The best performance of the season came Oct. 29 against then-No. 14 Arizona State. The Bears established a well-rounded attack, with four players finishing with 10 kills or more, and defeated the Sun Devils in four sets (14-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-22).

But for every great moment, there were plenty more bad ones. Some of the worst moments of the year came in November. The team ended the year by losing nine straight games, six of them in three straight sets.

Cal’s four seniors continued to play strong, however, despite the Bears struggling to find any team success. This was especially the case with redshirt senior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise, who led the Bears this season with a team-high 318 kills at a .374 hitting percentage.

Luckily for the Bears, there is a silver lining. Many of this year’s players will be returning for Cal and will only continue to improve.

Sophomore outside hitter Christine Alftin will take the helm next season and will likely become Cal’s most efficient offensive player. Alftin finished behind Schonewise this season, ending the year with a total of 262 kills.

Another important piece for the Bears next year will be junior middle blocker Jenelle Jordan. Jordan was a lightning rod for the Bears all season, bringing energy to a team that needed it all year. She ended the season with 196 kills at a .254 hitting percentage. Alftin and Jordan will look to shake up the Pac-12 next season, something the team was unable to accomplish this year.

Junior libero Maddy Kerr once again led the Bears on defense this season, ending the year with a total of 459 digs. This ranks as the ninth best single-season dig total in Cal history.

Kerr was a definite bright spot in such a tough season for the Bears, entering Cal’s all-time top 10 dig list for her career.

Even though Cal will have several players returning next season, there’s no doubt that the team will miss its four seniors. Besides Schonewise, the Bears will be saying goodbye to Lara Vukasovic, Nikki Gombar and Mary McKennon.

Fortunately for the Bears, there are incoming freshmen with plenty of potential who will join the team next year and look to make an impact of their own.

Perhaps one of the most exciting additions to the team next year will be Rocklin High School’s outside hitter Maddie Haynes, who is a past starter on the U.S. Youth National Team. Haynes has shown the type of impact she can have for a team on a national stage, aiding the U.S. national team to a Silver Medal at the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental Championship in 2014.

She also led her high school team last season to its second consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section title, resulting in her being named the Sierra Foothill League Most Valuable Player.

Cal’s loss to the Trojans on Friday put the final nail in the coffin for one of the worst seasons in program history. Fortunately for the Bears, there is nowhere to go but up.

Alex Quintana covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]