There are firsts for everything, and each first is important in its own way. Cal beach volleyball’s 11-match winning streak may have ended this weekend, but it made program history with its performance in the Pac-12 South Tournament.
The weekend started off tough for No. 16 Cal, as it faced No. 4 USC, the defending champions, right off the bat.
The Bears have a history of being swept by the Trojans, but their No. 4 and 5 pairs pulled off wins against their heavily favored opponents. Cal pushed USC to the limit, but it ultimately fell, 3-2.
“Competing against SC neck and neck was a first for our program,” said head coach Meagan Owusu. “The team stepped up the level of competition this weekend many times.”
On court five, junior Grace Campbell and freshman Maddie Micheletti defeated their opponents in straight sets, marking the first time Cal ever won a match against USC.
Junior Mia Merino and freshman Caroline Schafer, Cal’s No. 4 pair, followed their teammates’ lead. The duo dropped its first set to USC’s sophomore Joy Dennis and senior Jo Kremer, but Merino and Schafer came back to win the second set, 21-19, and came out on top in the tiebreaker, 15-7.
“Mia and Caroline just played their game,” Owusu said. “They were super aggressive from the start until the finish.”
Cal went into Saturday’s second dual proud of its performance against USC but hungry for a win, and the team satisfied that rumble with a dominant 5-0 win over then-No. 19 Washington.
Campbell and Micheletti had another strong performance against Washington, beating the Huskies’ senior Anna Crabtree and freshman Natalie Robinson in two sets. After a close 21-16 victory in the first set, Campbell and Micheletti kept Washington’s duo to single digits in the second set, winning 21-9.
With wins from every other pair, the Bears concluded the first day of the tournament having established itself as one of the big dogs, and they entered Sunday with the same mentality — eager to prove themselves among the nation’s best.
Cal dropped its first Sunday dual 5-0 to No. 2 UCLA without winning a single set, but freshmen Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman nearly won a set over UCLA’s No. 1 pair of juniors Megan McNamara and Nicole McNamara, pushing the Bruins to 24-22 in the first set.
The Bears’ loss to the Bruins served as a learning experience, and they were able to rebound in their final match of the tournament .
Cal entered the dual against then-No. 11 Arizona as the underdogs in their competitors’ and spectators’ eyes, as well as in the rankings.
“We know what we’re capable of, and we’re more consistently owning it against bigger teams,” Owusu said. “Going up against Arizona, we expected to beat them. The girls did a really great job playing to the level they’re capable of.”
Confident in their ability, the Bears’ talent outshone all expectations as they notched a 4-1 win over the Wildcats, who are the highest-ranked team Cal has ever defeated.
The weekend was an important test for the Bears, as they took on the nation’s best teams and proved their strength staying competitive with each of them. Though the tournament ended a long streak, the tight loss to USC and the win over Arizona demonstrated that Cal may have many more firsts to be proud of in the future.
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].