The scariest roller coasters are the ones full of loops, where the riders are constantly hanging upside down with their heads over their feet. That’s the type of ride Cal volleyball has been on this season. Injury after injury and then a leave of absence from Cal head coach Matt McShane has made the concept of being right side up a foreign one to Cal volleyball. The roller coaster only continued this weekend as Cal took two more losses in straight sets to No. 14 USC on Friday and No. 18 UCLA on Sunday.
Without McShane on Friday for the first time, assistant coach Jennifer Dorr took the role of interim head coach as the team battled the Trojans. Because she and fellow assistant coach Spencer McLachlin have several in-match duties that haven’t changed and a strong support system, Dorr said adapting to the new role has been manageable. Though the results of her first two matches as head coach weren’t very positive, they were still competitive, with the Bears not too far from their opponents both times.
Cal’s offense was relatively strong against USC in the first and third sets, as the Bears recorded an overall .218 hitting percentage. Defensively, though, Cal was not as successful in countering the fast Trojan offense, securing only two blocks and 36 digs.
“I would have liked us to dig a few more balls,” Dorr said. “SC has some great hitters that go up and take big swings at the ball. We need to dig the balls that hit us, and we didn’t get as many as we would have liked.”
Despite a rocky second set, Cal clearly hadn’t given up on the match, as it played with even more scrappiness and determination than seen in the first two sets, ending the game just 3 points behind the Trojans.
“The one play that stood out of the whole match (was) Isabel Potter, our setter, getting a block on their outside,” said freshman Preslie Anderson. “Usually, when you have little setters up at the front row, everyone on the opposing team likes to set their pin hitters in order to hit over the little person, but Potter got up and did her job. It’s a really big confidence-booster (for) the team — whoever is up there will get the job done.”
Ending the match in such a close manner against a top-ranked team gave the Bears some confidence moving forward to Sunday’s match against UCLA. Cal took an early 10-3 lead in the first set but several unforced errors put the Bruins back in the game. Kills from UCLA junior middle blocker Kyra Rogers helped bring the score to 22-20 before the Bruins closed out the set 23-25. The second set had a similar level of enthusiasm, with the teams constantly within just a few points of each other, but the third was an obvious win for UCLA.
The Bruins took the first 7 straight points of the game and later had another 6-point run, making the score halfway through the set 17-5 — a far different scenario from the first two sets. Nevertheless, Dorr said she was happy to see how players who haven’t seen much playing time this season came in and did their job. Notably, redshirt freshman Kat Knop played her first match as libero and led the team in digs with 12.
Despite having to adapt to several injuries with the starting six changing from match to match, Cal clearly tried to bring a consistency that made it seem as though perhaps the roller coaster ride might finally level out.
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]