After cycling through every team in its conference, the Cal volleyball team faced off against the final remaining opponent it had yet to play in the Pac-12: Oregon State. The Bears, riding a six-game losing streak dating back to Nov. 4, entered the match as the last-ranked team in the conference, with the Beavers just two spots ahead. Despite its best efforts, Cal was unable to pull out the victory in its final home match of the season — dubbed as Senior Night to honor the Bears’ graduating seniors — and fell in five tightly contested sets.
On Senior Night, Cal received strong performances from its veterans. Senior middle blocker Jenelle Jordan finished with 12 kills, setter Alyssa Jensen anchored the offense with 44 assists and libero Maddy Kerr racked up 23 digs. Junior Christine Alftin led all Bears in kills with 16.
Oregon State jumped out to an early 6-2 lead in the first frame, but Cal quickly bridged the gap to keep the set close. The Bears traded leads with the Beavers throughout the set, eventually finding themselves up 24-22 with a kill from redshirt freshman Savannah Rennie. Cal, however, failed to capitalize on the next two set points and allowed Oregon State to gain the lead. Down 25-24, the Bears clinched the set thanks to three consecutive errors from Mary-Kate Marshall.
The Bears’ lead in the match quickly evaporated after Oregon State won the next two sets, 25-14 and 25-19. In the fourth set, Cal found itself in a familiar position: up 24-22, just one point away from extending the game to a fifth frame. Though the Bears let the first set point slip away, they took advantage of the second one and earned the set victory 25-23.
In the final set, the Bears fell behind 10-2 early and didn’t have enough time to make their comeback. Cal rallied off an 8-4 run but lost the game 15-10.
“We don’t have enough of the players that will play good or great all the time, and they still slide down to below good at times, which has created the inconsistency,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “But, the young players have gotten a lot of experience. I’m looking forward to the future of Cal.”
The Bears will play their final match of the season in Stanford for the Big Spike, an annual tradition that pits the rival schools against each other. No. 12 Stanford currently sits at third place in the Pac-12, with a record of 14-5 in an extremely competitive conference that features six top-25 teams.
On offense, the Cardinal are led by freshman star Kathryn Plummer, who was ranked as the No. 3 senior ace last year. Plummer leads her team in kills with 330 on the season, including an average of 3.2 kills per set. Stanford’s young core is bolstered by freshman Morgan Hentz on defense, who has 477 digs this year.
Though the Bears don’t have the postseason aspirations of the Cardinal, they’ve found motivation for their final match of the season in other ways. For the seniors on the team, the Big Spike will be their last match at Cal.
“It’s going to be: How do you as a team want to finish the season? How do you respect your seniors who put in four tough years, to make their final couple of games rememberable?” Feller said. “So, that’s really the motivation there is finishing the season and going into the offseason with a positive note and also to respect the seniors that have put in so much to this program.”
Kapil Kashyap covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]