After playing below its potential last weekend, the Cal volleyball team hoped to bounce back this week in its slate of matches at home. But against a pair of formidable teams in No. 9 UCLA and USC, a team that’s unranked but finished 28th in voting, this would be easier said than done. Cal ended up being dominated by both opponents and, ultimately, this pair of matches read the same as last weekend’s: a pair of 3-0 sweeps.
The Bears faced off against UCLA (21-5, 12-4 Pac-12), which is currently tied for first in the Pac-12, on Thursday in Haas Pavilion and had arguably their worst offensive showing of the season. For a struggling team like Cal to beat a contender like UCLA, it needs to play mistake-free.
Instead, the Bears committed 30 errors, an alarmingly high total for a three-set match, and finished the match with a -0.016 hitting percentage. Junior Christine Alftin and freshman Bailee Huizenga, who recorded 10 and four kills, respectively, were the lone players on Cal to record positive hitting percentages.
Some of Cal’s offensive struggles can likely be attributed to the loss of senior Alyssa Jensen — the team’s setter and a key facilitator on offense. Jensen sat out because of an injury, so sophomore setter Mackenzie Albrecht started in her place. Albrecht, in her first start of the season, tallied 21 assists, well below Jensen’s season average of more than 10 assists per set.
The common theme in each set of the match was that the Bruins built an early lead and the Bears tried to play catch-up. Cal lost the first set handily, 25-15, but in the second set, it was able to make a late rally to cut the deficit to three points at 23-20. UCLA dashed the Bears’ hopes with two straight kills to take the 2-0 lead. The final set was a lopsided affair, with the Bruins pushing the lead from 6-3 to 22-3 by scoring 16 consecutive points. This hole was too deep to climb out of for Cal and the Bears wound up losing the third set 25-6.
Cal looked to bounce back from the blowout loss Saturday afternoon, when it matched up against USC (17-10, 9-7 Pac-12). In their last meeting against the Trojans in late October, the Bears lost 3-0 on the road, and on Saturday, history repeated itself. Alftin once again led the team in kills, amassing 11, but her performance wasn’t enough.
Unlike in its match against UCLA, Cal looked in control in its first set against USC. The set was close throughout, and the Bears were on the verge of taking the 1-0 lead after a kill by Jenelle Jordan put them up 24-22. Cal was unable to capitalize on two straight set points, however, and allowed the Trojans to score four points in a row to capture the set 26-24. USC pulled away early in the second set, and led by as many as 14 points en route to a 25-12 set victory.
The Bears led for a stretch early in the third set, but after conceding their 16-15 lead, they never recovered it. With a 25-21 victory in the third set, the Trojans won the match 3-0.
With another disappointing weekend in the books, the Bears will trudge through the rest of the season hoping for an upset victory that can give them confidence as they head into the spring.
“We still got to work,” said head coach Rich Feller. “We still are competing, and maybe we can be the spoiler for some team that’s got high aspirations and we can make it tougher on them.”
Kapil Kashyap covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]