Cal volleyball loses final match to Stanford

Alice Langford/File

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After a season of countless missed opportunities and oh-so-close losses, the Cal volleyball team finished its 2016 conference season the exact same way it started it: with a blowout loss to Stanford.

On top of that, the Bears were even able to take a set against the Cardinal back on Sept. 20, and lost 3-1. On Friday, however, Cal was dragged across the coals to a humbling 3-0 loss in Palo Alto — one that even included a 25-8 second set meltdown for a team that heads into the long offseason with a 9-21 overall record and 3-17 mark in Pac-12 play.

Speaking of the ol’ Pac-12, this season has been a rude reminder of not only the many holes in the armor of the Bears but also of the shockingly small number of them in the armor of their west coast neighbors. Five teams from the Bears’ conference are currently in the top 19 of the most recent AVCA Coaches’ poll, and the three best teams in the PAC-12 — Washington, UCLA and the very same Cardinal — combined for 14 total conference losses between them. That’s three less than Cal — the team that sits dead last in the conference by two entire games.

The Bears, therefore, have ample room to grow. This marks the third straight year that Cal has lost 20 or more matches, and much of the team will look very different next year with many seniors set to leave the program in the coming months. There will also be new blood entering the pot, with three top-75 recruits signing with the Blue and Gold recently.

But for now, the team is in ruins — ruins that were greatly exposed in Maples Pavilion on Black Friday.

The No. 12 Cardinal, who were celebrating Senior Night, notched a scorching .381 hitting percentage while holding the Bears to an abysmal -.046 — yes, you’re reading that right, in the negative.

Stanford was led by senior Inky Ajanaku and freshman Kathryn Plummer. The former hit a .467 with no errors and seven kills and a match-high six blocks, while the latter led the team with 13 kills of her own to go along with two digs, two assists and three blocks. They were provided ample opportunity not only by the worst defense in the Pac-12, but also the play of freshman setter Jenna Gray — who outplayed Cal’s veteran setter Alyssa Jensen with 17 more assists.

As far as the Bears go, this game got away from them earlier than they were perhaps anticipating. After taking a 9-8 lead in the first set, Cal was rallied against by the Cardinal, losing the set 25-15. The second set was a blowout and the third not much better.

Christine Alftin again led Cal in kills but only accrued six. Jensen managed an impressive but still below-average-by-her-standards 18 assists, and senior Maddy Kerr nabbed seven digs to get into Cal’s second place all-time in that mark.

The match was, in many ways, an embodiment of Cal’s season and its standing as a modern Pac-12 team — not quite ready and not quite close to being.

Austin Isaacsohn covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @AustinIsaacsohn.