Perhaps it’s something about the Pacific Northwest that caused Cal to fall to a pair of Oregon teams this weekend in straight sets. Or perhaps the Bears were simply unable to execute in a relatively unfamiliar environment. In any case, Cal took its third and fourth conference losses to Oregon State and No. 15 Oregon, dropping its Pac-12 record to 2-4.
On Friday, the Beavers (11-7, 1-5), who like the Bears, had lost to Utah 3-0, beat Cal (11-6, 2-4) in a 3-0 match (25-20, 25-17, 25-13). Cal started off strong in the first set, with a five-point lead over Oregon St. A few runs by the Beavers, though, brought them back into competition, making the score 15-15. A series of errors from Cal allowed the Beavers to pull ahead and eventually close out the set 25-20. Oregon State’s momentum carried the team to win the next two sets.
“We’re a really good team and we have so much potential, we just need to tighten up the passing a little and make a few less errors,” said sophomore Emma Smith. “I think both of those games were very win-able but we just need to play a little smarter (and) keep getting used to each other on the court.”
Sunday’s match at Oregon was just Smith’s fourth match as libero this season and 27th set appearance. The time Smith saw on the court both this weekend and last was new.
Speaking from the role of the key defensive player, Smith noted that the passing in both matches was lacking. With poor passing, the setters, specifically in the match against Oregon, struggled to provide hitters with opportunities to strategically place the ball.
“We made our setters run around a little bit and our setters struggled,” said Cal head coach Matt McShane. “You can tell from our hitting percentage, one of our lowest hitting percentages that we’ve hit all year. We didn’t give our hitters a good chance to get kills.”
Similarly, when the Bears faced Oregon on Sunday, they were not able to come out ahead in any of the three sets (19-25, 19-25, 19-25), though they clearly gave consistent pressure to the Ducks.
Indeed, the Bears recorded a season-low hitting percentage against Oregon, hitting an overall .041, falling far short of McShane’s stated goal to consistently hit .220. Setting hitters up with the opportunities they need to score points will be a focus of practice this week.
“It’s not like being at home,” McShane said. “Especially (at Oregon), we got down in all three games early and so it was difficult for us to create our own excitement.”
It’s not surprising to see a relatively young team struggle on the road. As three of the players who consistently see the court are freshmen — outside hitter Mima Mirkovic, middle blocker Preslie Anderson and setter Isabel Potter, the team is still working on maintaining high energy in away environment.
These two away matches were the first two of a four match journey on the road. It won’t get any easier, the team has struggled gaining confidence to pull out ahead in tough matches without the backing of its fans behind them.
“All three games (at Oregon) we’re 25-19,” McShane said. “Those are pretty close games. If we were at home I think we would win.”
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]