As days grow shorter and Winter draws nigh, the Pac-12 volleyball season has begun its final wind down and will soon come to a close. And while some of the conference’s very best will shortly square off to determine the Pac-12 (and perhaps eventual national) Champion, the have-nots must continue their now-insignificant squabbles for the sake of pride and heart — but mostly scheduling.
Fighting for king of that western swamp in Berkeley on Wednesday will be the perpetual underdog Cal volleyball team (9-19), which will face Oregon State to determine which team will perhaps leave Haas as the lowest seed in the entire conference. As stalwarts Washington and UCLA sit proudly at the top with a 14-4 Pac-12 record, the Bears, with a win, will bring the Beavers down to their level with 15 conference losses.
Neither team rides in with much in the way of a hot streak, with Oregon State losing four of its past five games while Cal has lost six of its past six. But what the Beavers can definitely boast that the Bears cannot is individual offensive firepower.
While Cal has run with a “best player by committee” approach thus far, Oregon State’s far-and-away star, Mary-Kate Marshall, has been just about unstoppable all season long.
The junior is fourth in the Pac-12 in kills, registering 3.93 per set, but ranks second in overall points with 4.48 per. The whole offense works to get its best killer looks, but she’s set up predominantly by McKenna Hollingsworth, whose 8.15 assists per set are good for fifth in the conference.
The duo should have success against a Cal defense so porous that it makes a coffee filter shudder and cheesecloth chuckle. The Bears rank dead last in opponent hitting percentage in the Pac-12, surrendering a .258 to go along with an also-conference-worst 1.83 blocks per set.
Speaking of stats, it’s kinda funny how the Beavers are currently 10th in the Pac-12 standings because they’re also 10th in just about every meaningful team statistical category — hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, assists and kills.
Look for the Bears to perhaps give not only more playing time, but more in-game opportunity, to their two promising freshmen that look good enough to carry the next generation of Cal volleyball. Bailee Huizenga and Maddie Haynes have combined for 440 kills this season, for an average of 4.85 per set, and have at times looked like the best players on the court for either team.
They’ve been plagued by a more than healthy amount of freshman jitters and inconsistencies — Huizenga has committed 108 errors and Haynes 106 — but have also shown more than enough flashes to prove they’re more than capable at this level.
Wednesday will also begin the last stretch for Cal’s outgoing seniors. Maddy Kerr is zeroing in on the school’s all-time digs record, Alyssa Jensen is holding her own at third in the conference with 10.47 assists per set and Jenelle Jordan is still the team’s best interior defender. While these players leaving will usher in a new era of Cal volleyball, their strong outgoing play shows the young players something to aspire to in their own coming development.