Only true travel enthusiasts would enjoy the number of short weekend trips Cal volleyball takes to play its away opponents. The team especially cherishes the nights it plays in Haas Pavilion, with the Cal band cheering it on from the stands. But not all nights can be like that, and the team will embark on its final road trip of the regular season as the Bears travel up to the Evergreen State, where they will play No. 8 Washington on Thursday before facing Washington State on Friday.
At their last encounter, the Huskies swept the Bears, but those three sets were highly competitive, with Washington winning the first two sets by just 2 points. While Cal did not take the win, the coaching staff and players were satisfied with how the team played against the top of the nation, let alone the Pac-12.
The Bears were forced to play without senior Christine Alftin and junior Mackenzie Albrecht because of injuries. Weeks later, with Alftin and Albrecht still not fully recovered, Cal head coach Matt McShane says the team is still trying to find a lineup strong enough to take on Washington.
“The biggest (focus in practice) is trying to get over injuries,” McShane said. “Christine is still touch-and-go on whether or not she can play. Same with (Mackenzie). We’re trying to find replacements for those guys. I think we have been mostly paying attention to ourselves … mostly trying to find a lineup that we can get comfortable in, get a little bit of consistency in.”
Redshirt junior Ashten Smith-Gooden and sophomore Maddie Haynes have both seen more playing time in recent weeks, as the coaching staff continues trying out different scenarios. Haynes, who typically plays front and center of the court, played as an outside hitter when the Bears saw the Huskies at home. With eight kills, Haynes averaged a .400 hitting percentage, an impressive feat despite her playing in a different position.
Though Haynes performed well at Cal’s last encounter with Washington, McShane was not sure what Thursday’s lineup will look like. No matter who takes Alftin and Albrecht’s roles, they will have to be ready to put up a strong defense.
“(The Huskies) tend to run sets that are very, very fast,” McShane said. “So if you’re at all unprepared to get up and block, the ball can get hit before you’re even in position to block.”
While Cal will have to be on its A-game to block Washington’s strong offense, it’s well known that Washington and state rival Washington State will not struggle to counter Cal’s offense. Both teams are known for their players’ heights and have impressive blocking records that top Pac-12 standings. The Huskies rank first in the Pac-12 for blocks ahead of the Cougars, with 3.12 blocks/set and 2.99 blocks/set, respectively.
The Bears can have a little more confidence as they travel to Pullman, Washington to take on Washington State. The Cougars, though undoubtedly good at blocking, have failed to execute in other areas. Having won only one of their past nine matches, the Cougars have a shabby 3-11 conference record. One of those losses was to Cal, when the teams played each other in Haas Pavilion.
Should the Bears play with the same determination that they did when faced with unexpected injuries the last time they saw the Washington teams, their final road trip of the season will be a promising one.
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]