No. 14 Cal beach volleyball scheduled for final string of home games against San Jose State, Saint Mary’s, No. 20 Santa Clara

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For an athlete, one of the best feelings is when the audience is cheering loudly and encourages them if they lose a point or make a mistake — the roar of a supportive crowd when one performs well and the cries of “come on” when things don’t go right. All this is part of an athlete’s life, especially when they are playing at home. The players on the No. 14 Cal beach volleyball team haven’t experienced supportive crowds for the majority of the season — the team has only been home for three matches — but this Friday and Saturday it will be playing its final stretch of matches in front of its home crowd.

“It’s always great to compete on our home court,” said Cal head coach Meagan Schmitt. “The crowd is always very loud and supportive and it gives us an advantage. We are very excited to play here.”

The Bears will be hosting three teams at the Clark Kerr Sand Courts this weekend: San Jose State, Saint Mary’s and No. 20 Santa Clara. Cal has faced all three teams this season, with losses to SJSU and Santa Clara and two wins against the Gaels.

“We are looking forward to playing against all three teams again,” Schmitt said. “Two of the teams, we’ve already lost to early in the season, so there is a feeling of vengeance and excitement to get those wins.”

On Saturday, before the matchup against Santa Clara, seniors Sarah Cole, Kory Lamet and Ashley Johnson will be honored on account of Senior Day. Cole is the captain of the team this season and both Lamet and Cole have given impressive performances, while Johnson was a regular on the player rotation last season and has also served as captain.

Lamet, who played for the Cal women’s soccer team until last fall, has been phenomenal this season. She has formed a very effective partnership with sophomore Bryce Bark as they have regularly featured for Cal on court 2 this season. Lamet is the defense specialist on the team, where her scrappy play and athleticism has reaped benefits. Bark has utilized her offensive prowess to great effect, and the tandem has been the Bears’ most consistent this season. The duo has put up a record of 17-5, including a thrilling three-set win over Stanford that clinched the dual for Cal.

The last time the Bears squared off against Santa Clara, it was raining and the conditions played a huge role in the outcome of the match. With a wet and slippery ball, it was hard to control the pace of the rallies, a strategy that Cal has utilized this season to full effect, and Santa Clara notched a 3-2 victory. With the weather forecast suggesting a sunny day, the Bears will be looking to record a victory this time around.

While the loss to Santa Clara had the rain factoring in, the loss to SJSU came because of a loss of focus. Cal faced off against SJSU at the Monterey Tournament earlier this season and was the clear favorite in the matchup. Underwhelming performances from some pairs, however, proved to be the Bears’ undoing as they slumped to a 3-2 loss.

Against Saint Mary’s, however, Cal has shown extraordinary mental strength, as seen in the 3-2 score lines in the two wins. A major problem at the start of the season was the Bears’ inability to go all the way to win close matches. The players would commit mistakes or struggle to kill rallies. All this allowed Cal’s opponents to get the upper hand early in the year, but against the Gaels, Cal has shown its finishing prowess.

The Bears are currently on an impressive seven-match winning streak. They are slated to participate in the Pac-12 Championships after this round of matches, and judging by recent results, Cal looks to be in good shape for the tournament. This weekend’s matches will serve as a good preparatory course for the tournament as the squad will be able to improve on the shortcomings that it faced in previous encounters with these teams.

Devang Prasad covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DevangPrasad.