Cal volleyball falls at home to No. 11 Stanford

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Zainab Ali/File

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With a 24-23 lead in the third set, Cal volleyball looked on the verge of capturing a 2-1 lead. On Tuesday, Cal kicked off the Pac-12 portion of its schedule against Stanford, ranked No.11 in the country in the AVCA Coaches Poll. The Bears came into the matchup as a heavy underdog but found themselves in position to pull off the upset late in the third set.

Then, things fell apart.

The Cardinal rattled off three straight points to clinch the third set and dominated Cal in the fourth and final set to earn a 3-1 victory against the Bears. But despite the loss, head coach Rich Feller’s enthusiasm about the team’s performance was unmistakable.

“I really could almost be not more pleased with (the team’s performance),” Feller said. “I think that we had a pretty major breakthrough with our team’s confidence level and sustaining long periods of good play. We’re doing some really good things against a very good team.”

In the first set, Cal’s offense gave the team an early boost. Freshmen Maddie Haynes and Bailee Huizenga got off to strong starts, recording a pair of kills each early in the first set. The set remained close throughout, with both teams trading the lead. Stanford led 15-12, but the Bears regained the advantage with an 8-2 run to put them ahead. With the score tied 23-23, a pair of attack errors by the Cardinal gave Cal the first set victory.

The Bears jumped out to an early 6-3 start in the second set before a 6-0 run by Stanford allowed the Cardinal to take the lead. Huizenga’s powerful hitting as well as the team’s ability to make timely digs and extend points kept Cal afloat in the second set. Before the end of the second set, Huizenga amassed double-digit kills — a feat that’s even more impressive when factoring in the height that Stanford has to block shots. Down 23-18, the Bears managed to score three straight points to keep the set alive, but Stanford ultimately won the second set, 25-22.

“I think we finally started to figure out some of their attack patterns, and we were able to put defensive players in the right positions,” Feller said. “Our block touched a lot more balls. I think overall the defense was good and is getting better.”

Stanford’s height became overwhelming for Cal in the third set. They were able to pick up several points by blocking hits close to the net, leaving Cal’s defense little time to react. The Cardinal led 13-8, before the Bears stormed back to take the lead 24-23. With back-to-back kills and an attack error by Alyssa Jensen, Stanford earned its three most important points of the match to win the third set. The discrepancy in depth between the two teams was pronounced in the fourth set, and the Cardinal was able to cruise to a 25-13 victory.

“You get into a long battle against a team like that who is bigger than you and they’re getting almost twice as much rest as you,” Feller said. “It’s tough to sustain.”

Kapil Kashyap covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]