Fresh off a victory against No. 9 Stanford, Washington State — currently ranked 17th — had all the confidence going into its matchup against the Cal volleyball team Sunday. The Bears, meanwhile, were in the midst of an incredibly difficult road trip, with the Cougars marking their third consecutive top-25 opponent on the road and fourth consecutive top-25 opponent overall.
As expected, the heavily favored Washington State team defeated the Bears, dispatching Cal in three sets at home and extending its losing streak to four matches.
The Bears entered their match against Washington State averaging 13.7 kills per set, but Cal’s hitters couldn’t reach that mark in Pullman. Cal recorded just 13 kills in the first set and even fewer in the second and third sets. Some of the Bears’ offensive struggles can be attributed to the Cougars’ stifling defense, which produced 10 blocks in the match. Washington State is ranked third in the nation in blocks per set, just barely trailing Wisconsin and Stanford with its mark of 3.34. The Cougars held Cal to a 0.224 hitting percentage for the match, including a 0.172 hitting percentage in the third set.
Redshirt sophomore Ashten Smith-Gooden was the Bears’ leader in kills for the second game in a row, tallying 11 on a 0.389 hitting percentage. Smith-Gooden was the only player on her team to record double-digit kills in the match but also chipped in four of Cal’s 17 attack errors — a number that needs to go down if Cal wants to steal a match from a nationally ranked team.
Despite the lopsided result, the Bears kept each of the sets in the match competitive. Cal struggled early in the first set, however, with its last lead coming at 2-1. The Bears played from behind the rest of the game, but kept the score close enough to keep the door open for a late rally. Down 21-19, Cal committed a series of errors that the Cougars were able to capitalize on, and Washington State took a 1-0 lead.
At the beginning of the second set, the Bears were able to keep up with the Cougars and found themselves tied with Washington State, 8-8. The set featured six ties, but the Cougars surged ahead in the latter half of the frame and took advantage of Cal’s errors in the closing possessions to win 25-17.
The third set was the closest set, featuring seven ties and three lead changes between the two teams. With a 26-20 edge in digs for the match (of which senior libero Maddy Kerr contributed 12), the Bears were able to extend possessions and scrape for points in the final set. After a 15-15 tie, senior Kyra Holt, who led Washington State with 12 kills, and her team were too much for Cal’s defense and the Bears lost the set 25-22. Cal will return home to play its next four matches, where it will have ample opportunities to snap its losing streak.
Kapil Kashyap covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]