Cal beach volleyball opens season at Stanford

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After weeks of rain to start the semester, the sun is shining in the Bay Area, just in time for Cal beach volleyball’s season debut at Stanford this weekend. After a long offseason of practices at their facilities nestled up by Clark Kerr Campus, the Bears embark on their fourth official season as a varsity sport on campus.

In fact, collegiate beach volleyball as a whole is preparing for its second official season as an NCAA-recognized sport, and it is only continuing to grow. This upcoming season, 10 of the 12 Pac-12 universities (Oregon State and Colorado are the exceptions) will have full-time beach squads. In Cal’s debut season in the spring of 2014, 41 Division I schools had programs, and three years later, that number has grown to 73. The trend of recruiting beach-only players has risen with the growth of programs across the nation, lessening the overlap of players who play on both the indoor and beach teams and producing high-level play in both versions of the sport.

The Bears will play four matches over the course of the weekend against University of the Pacific, Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s and Cal Poly. All are familiar opponents for the Bears, who compiled a 5-2 record against those four teams last season. Both losses came against Santa Clara, which the Bears will try to exact revenge on this weekend.

After finishing the 2016 season with a 17-11 record and ranked No. 16 in the nation, Cal enters this season ranked two spots higher at No. 14 in the AVCA Collegiate Beach Volleyball Preseason Poll.

Cal head coach Meagan Schmitt leads her young team into her second season at the helm. She’s an alumna of the Cal indoor volleyball team from 2007-11.

“The girls are more than ready for their first match after our six-week offseason that gave us enough time to train and nail down areas of improvement,” Schmitt said.

Junior team captains Bryce Bark and Teya Neff lead a talented group of young players into this upcoming season. Cal returns 12 players — including Mia Merino, who played exclusively at the No. 1 pair last season, earning her a spot on the All Pac-12 Freshman team. Also, the solidified pair of players Grace Campbell and Olivia Rodberg is returning for their sophomore years as the No. 3 pair, after compiling an impressive 19-9 record as a team last year.

Meanwhile, the program is also welcoming seven new freshmen. Among the highly touted group hoping to make an impact for the Bears this season are Madison Dueck, a Santa Cruz native who earned USAV High Performance honors in high school, and Camille Stepanof, an AVCA All-American Honorable Mention out of the Bishop’s School in San Diego.

As the calendar shifts to March, the Cal beach volleyball team looks towards a successful and sunny spring on the sand, and more importantly a positive start to the season across the Bay this weekend.

Charlie Griffen covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].