After an extremely hot start, Cal volleyball has been experiencing some tough turn of events after losing to Utah and Stanford the past two weeks. At the end of the week, Cal (9-4) will be taking on the Arizona State Sun Devils (10-4) with a chance to regain its confidence after two consecutive losses.
Arizona State will be a worthy opponent and has proven to be a challenge for Cal. In fact, it may have the upper hand on the Bears, with an impressive 715 overall kills and 842 total digs under their belts.
“You know Arizona State (has) struggled last year, and they got a new coach,” said Cal head coach Matt McShane. “They have drastically improved over last year. They’re doing a nice job, and it’s not just defensively; they’re hitting very well.”
Arizona State prides itself on its firm and balanced offensive and defensive team. Senior libero Halle Harker from Arizona State is a tough defensive player, with 274 digs this season, and has been nominated for defensive player of the week twice by the Pac-12.
“You know, like any volleyball match, coaches are going to tell you that it’s defense that wins,” McShane said. “So if we serve well and make (Arizona State) not pass very well and make them a little bit more predictable — then we match up with them very, very well.”
Senior outside blocker Oluoma Okaro from Arizona State was a runner-up for Pac-12’s offensive player of the week. She is a strong player, with 235 kills and 127 saves made by her alone. Not only does Arizona State boast an incredibly large amount of kills, but also an equally large amount of saves, solo blocking and assisted blocking.
“Okaro — she is absolutely one of the better hitters, so we are focusing on her quite a bit,” McShane said. “We are going to make sure we serve away from their libero. She is a remarkably good player, really good passer. We are going to make sure that we serve the other players.”
The Bears began their season with a loud boom, and they have a good chance of winning this Friday if they increase their defenses and finish their matches strong. Cal has a history of beginning it matches with a fierce offense that doesn’t continue into the final set.
“Consistency,” McShane said. “We need to be a little bit more consistent when we play. We have been brilliant at times. When we played Utah and Stanford, the first two games we played against both of them the games were very, very close, and then we tend to let up just a little bit, so we want to be a little more consistent throughout the match.”
Last Sunday, senior outside hitter Antzela Dempi was consistent with attack attempts and kills, while junior setter Mackenzie Albrecht had continuous blocks and digs. If the Bears can keep up their stamina and finish with a strong defense, they have a chance for a W. This is an opportunity for the Bears to turn the tides in the Pac-12 standings and to win at home sweet home.
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]