Cal beach volleyball sweeps Santa Clara in home opener

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Ethan Epstein/File

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No rain could ruin Cal beach volleyball’s parade. Though the weather wasn’t ideal, the Bears kicked off their home season without dropping a single set in an impressive 5-0 victory over Santa Clara.

Cal head coach Meagan Owusu said the team accentuated a key change in strategy during practice this week — paying more attention to themselves than their opponents.

“After last weekend we really changed our focus to honoring our side of the net and taking care of business,” Owusu said. “Every single team came out and maintained that focus for the entirety of the match.”

This reformed mindset may not have been all that led the Bears to such domination Thursday. Owusu also made some changes to the team’s lineup, moving all-freshmen pair Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman to the No. 2 slot while senior Bryce Bark and sophomore Madison Dueck played the No. 3 slot.

Owusu also split up freshmen Caroline Schafer and Maddie Micheletti, who went 1-1 together last weekend. Schafer played with junior Mia Merino while Micheletti and junior Grace Campbell played Santa Clara’s No. 5 team. The pair of Micheletti and Campbell was one of three pairs that kept their opponents in single digits for at least one set, holding the Broncos to 8 points in the second set.

Senior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Iya Lindahl remained at the No. 1 spot and defeated Santa Clara senior Kirsten Mead and redshirt sophomore Taylor Odom in a decisive 21-9, 21-15 win.

“It feels really good to put in a full week of work and reap the benefits,” Owusu said.

The weekend is just getting started for the Bears. Though one home dual match is out of the way, Cal leaves home for Saratoga, where it will play both West Valley College and San Jose State on Friday. Like the Bears, the Spartans and Vikings both opened their seasons last week.

SJSU will face Cal after a weekend of competition in Arizona already under the team’s belt, where they beat Benedictine Mesa and Abilene Christian in 5-0 sweeps, but they then fell to then-No. 9 Arizona 5-0.

The Spartans’ No. 2 pair of senior Nandyala Gama and graduate student Lyndi Scholl ultimately ended the duel against the Wildcats with a fifth loss for the team but proved their strength and ability of the pair, taking their ranked opponents to a tiebreaker set.

Gama is one of 12 upperclassmen on SJSU’s roster. With strong senior leadership, the Spartans enter the season with significantly more collegiate volleyball experience than the young Cal team.

Though West Valley is a community college, it plays against four-year schools during the preseason, including University of San Francisco and Santa Clara.

West Valley standouts include sophomores Morgan Wright and Kristen Hayes along with new faces such as freshman All-NorCal indoor player Mapu Sekona.

“San Jose always comes out and competes hard,” Owusu said. “I know that it’ll be a good match, but we are significantly better this year, so we should come out with three wins this weekend.”

Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]