Friday night marked a night of many firsts for Cal volleyball as it beat Washington State (13-9, 2-8) in a 3-1 match. Freshman Isabel Potter, who measures up to just 5’9”, played in the front row for the first time this season. Redshirt freshman Kat Knop played in the first match of her collegiate career. Most notably, though, Cal saw its first major injuries of the season when both captains — junior Mackenzie Albrecht and senior Christine Alftin — were injured, keeping them on the bench for all of Sunday’s match against Washington, which the Bears lost 3-0.
When the first set against Wazzu started, the changes that were to come were not yet foreseeable. The Bears and Cougars found themselves in a close battle — the way it would be for the duration of the match. The Bears were trailing the Cougars 17-19 when Cal head coach Matt McShane called a timeout. After the timeout, Cal went on to score 8 straight points, finishing the set 25-19.
McShane’s words of magic that prompted the feat? Patience.
“We just needed to take a breath and make a run of our own,” McShane said.
It was a promising start, but in the second set, the roles reversed. In a timely span of eight plays, Wazzu won seven, taking the score from 16-15 to 23-16. The score, however, served as more of a wake-up call for the Bears than an inevitable certainty that Cal would lose. Freshman Mima Mirkovic started to serve strongly to push the score to 23-21, allowing the Bears to keep the game competitive. A few smart plays from Wazzu, however, allowed the Cougars to take the second set, 25-22.
While the first two sets were certainly exciting, the third set was most notable. Albrecht suffered an injury in the first set that she initially played through, but by the third set, concussion symptoms prompted her to sit out the rest of the match. Albrecht’s central role in the Bears’ offense caused her injury to affect the team as a whole.
The Bears typically run a 6-2 offense — in which they utilize two setters — but were forced to change to a 5-1 offense, with Potter needing to set at every point on the court.
“Obviously that was something we hadn’t practiced or run, but my teammates made it so much easier for me because they told me what to do — they helped me out,” Potter said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without them.”
The second injury from Friday night — Alftin’s sprained ankle — forced the Bears to adjust further. Altfin was able to play Friday but sat out as Cal dropped its Sunday match against No. 14 Washington, the team’s first home loss since its season opener, which snapped an eight-game streak.
Though Cal certainly missed Alftin’s leadership on the court, the team adapted to her and Albrecht’s absence well in the Bears’ match against the Huskies.
The Bears led Washington (16-5, 6-4) for a majority of the first set and were first to reach set point but ultimately fell 24-26, squandering three chances. While the Huskies also took the second set, they did so only with a 3-point margin. Known for its strong blocking up front, Washington’s defense put up a wall against Cal hitters, fostering momentum that allowed the Huskies to dominate the third set, 25-17.
“I thought we were great,” McShane said. “I thought we showed a ton of heart. We showed how good we are. If they’re 11th in the country, then clearly we are within a few of them.”
Though Sunday’s match was the Bears’ first home loss since the opener, their adaptation to many other firsts demonstrated Cal’s renewed sense of determination and ability to adjust well, even against the best of the Pac-12.
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]