It’s tough to get a good read on the Cal volleyball team. While its 3-9 record in Pac-12 play doesn’t indicate a squad ready to contend in the postseason, the way it’s played in those three victories, securing a 9-3 rally margin, perhaps echoes the underlying power of a Bear unit that can only sometimes get its collective shit together. Sure, that’s only three wins.
But they are becoming more frequent.
After dropping their first five conference matches, the Bears were able to rattle off two wins over their next three, and three of their next seven on their three-spot climb up the conference ranks to where they sit now: directly behind a team they not only have already beaten once but will soon be facing again. Cal will climb the mountains this weekend, again doing battle with all-too-familiar No. 19 Utah and Colorado — this time on their courts.
As an eventful 2016 winds down, each game becomes more impactful. As each day grows colder, each contest becomes more telling of the team the Bears will have become by season’s end (as they say, winter is coming). With pressure still somehow mounting as the Bears ascend into high altitude of enemy territory, the mentality of the team has come stronger into focus.
“The confidence level is high, the belief is high,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller after Cal’s recent upset over then-No. 18 Washington State. “If they can take that in and believe in themselves like that, then there’s no one out there that they can’t compete with and perhaps beat. We have eight conference matches left. So, let’s go and try to win eight of them and go from there.”
This is a great sign for Cal, because the two games it’s about to play could seriously inflate its conference standing. But seriously standing in the way of that conference-standing inflation are the 16-7 Utes and the 12-10 Buffaloes. Great.
The Bears have already had brief flings with both schools this year, and after being dumped by Utah, they did some heartbreaking of their own against Colorado. It’s safe to say that the whole love triangle will be looking for some closure this weekend.
Utah is still in many ways the same team that gave Cal a 3-0 drubbing in the capstone game of the Bears’ aforementioned five-game losing streak. The Utes still strut with one of the conference’s best killers in junior Adora Anae, who not only puts down a Pac-12 high 4.73 kills per set but also burned quite an impression onto Cal specifically this season when she led her team with 15 kills on the Haas Pavilion floor.
This week also marks the fourth straight that Anae’s team has been ranked in the AVCA Top 25, and it could be well on its way to the very top of the conference with a good couple of matches.
Following the tango in Salt Lake City, the Bears will ask for yet another dance Sunday in the Centennial State. Although Colorado’s on the brink of being swept by the Bears this season, it’s more than held its own against nearly everyone else. The Buffs’ two recent vanquishes of No. 13 Penn State and No. 17 Illinois indicate not only the true strength of their program but also the insane difficulty of a Pac-12 conference whose high tide has strange knack for sinking all ships.
While the matchup may not mean much in the grand scheme of things — Cal and Colorado competing for ninth place in a conference led by the best collegiate teams in the entire nation — the intended growth each team will be looking to make in the twilight of this season and eventually into the summer months makes this dual worth much more than a hill of mud at the very back of the Pac-12.
For Cal, if for nothing else but pride, is fighting to be the king of that hill.