No. 15 Cal beach volleyball set to compete in inaugural Pac-12 Championships

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The No. 15 Cal beach volleyball team has improved immensely this year. The team’s record last season was 7-14, but this year the team ended regular season play with a record of 16-9. Now that the regular season is over, the team will be gearing up for postseason play, and the first stop for the Bears will be in Los Angeles as they compete in the inaugural Pac-12 Championships.

The tournament will feature both a pairs bracket and a team bracket. In the former, Cal will be represented by the pairs senior Sarah Cole and freshman Mia Merino, and senior Kory Lamet and sophomore Bryce Bark. Both pairs have been the standout performers for Cal this season and have contributed massively to the team’s progress. Cole and Merino compiled a record of 14-9 on Court 1 and are seeded seventh in the tournament. They will first be facing off against 10th-seeded Crissy Jones and Tia Scambray of Washington. Bark and Lamet are seeded 13th and will begin their campaign against fourth-seeded Bianca Arellano and Whitney Folette of Arizona State.

“The pairs tournament will be really fun to compete in,” said Cal head coach Meagan Schmitt. “Our 1s and 2s will be competing against the best players in the country, and both of them are peaking at the right time. It’ll be a great battle.”

Both pairs have a good chance of impressing in the pairs tournament. Cole and Merino gave some big performances throughout the season, and their adept passing play will allow them to dictate the pace of the matches. An improvement in terminal plays, however, will be key for them to go all the way.

Bark and Lamet posted a record of 18-7 in regular-season play. The pair also showed its mental strength and resolve by clinching the win over rival Stanford on April 5. Lamet’s incredible athleticism is evident in the jaw-dropping digs she executes. She is the defensive anchor of the pair, while Bark utilizes her height and hang time to shoulder the offensive workload. The pair, however, is prone to unforced errors, which can cost it crucial points throughout the course of the tournament.

“In the past two matches, Kory and I lost, and it was to teams we had previously lost to,” Bark said. “We understood the mistakes we made and will try not to repeat them against the teams we will face. We need to play more aggressively and, most importantly, need to focus on our side. All the teams will be different and bring different styles, but if we play our own game well, we have a chance of being successful.”

The team tournament will begin Friday afternoon, after the pairs tournament has ended. Cal is seeded fourth for the tournament and will be kicking off in the sand against fifth-seeded ASU (11-11). Cal faced ASU once in the regular season, an encounter that went the Bears’ way with a 4-1 scoreline.

“We were expected to be seeded No. 4,” Schmitt said. “We had some good teams ahead of us as well as behind us. Championship tournaments are a different kind of competition. Teams get fired up and compete at a higher level than expected. We need to realize that but also go out and play the volleyball we have been working on for the last year and trust in our efforts.”

“I told the guys in the dugout, ‘If you think they’re going to just give us a 1-2-3 ninth inning, we’re kidding ourselves’. I expected it to be a little hairy, unfortunately.”

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