Cal beach volleyball wins 3 of 4 at Wildcat Invitational

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Joshua Jordan/File

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The desert was a battleground this weekend, and No. 14 Cal beach volleyball came fully equipped for a war in Arizona.

In its final match of the weekend, Cal fell to No. 15 Arizona, 3-2, but the team forced Arizona State, Stetson and Colorado Mesa to wave the white flag.

“We would have liked to finish the weekend 4-0, but we are all happy with how we competed and handled the elements,” said head coach Meagan Owusu. “We are definitely leaving this trip happy and ready to work hard another week.”

Cal’s true test of the weekend wouldn’t be until Saturday afternoon, but it opened the tournament Friday in full force against Arizona State. The Bears only dropped a single set and swept the Sun Devils, 5-0, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend.

Competition against No. 17 Stetson later on Friday proved tougher for Cal. Three of the matches were pushed to a third set, but the Bears managed to come out of all but one tiebreaker as the victors.

While Cal’s No. 2 pair of senior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Iya Lindahl fought a close battle against Stetson’s sophomores Carly Perales and Sunniva Helland-Hansen, they ultimately fell, 15-9, in the third set.

Cal opened Saturday with a clean sweep over Colorado Mesa University. The Bears’ all-freshman No. 1 pair — Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman — refused to budge against its opponents, limiting the Mavericks to 9 points or fewer in both sets.

Cal junior Grace Campbell and freshman Maddie Micheletti had a particularly notable match as well, defeating CMU’s freshman Ara Norwood and junior Natalee Todd, 21-6, 21-5.

Campbell and Micheletti went on to play an integral role in the Arizona dual that directly followed, defeating the Wildcats in straight sets. Arizona led, 2-1, after Cal’s No. 1 and No. 4 pair dropped their matches, but the Bears were still in contention for the win.

On court three, senior Bryce Bark and sophomore Madison Dueck came close to pushing a third set, but they fell short at 21-18, making the Wildcats’ win concrete.

“In terms of improvement, we could have done a better job of siding out and not allowing the rallies to continue against Arizona,” Owusu said.

Though the Bears upset the Wildcats, 4-1, in Santa Monica a few weeks ago, playing in unfamiliar conditions while in enemy territory wasn’t the only changes this time around.

While Cal maintained its same roster, Arizona swapped around players and pairs so Mirkovic and Inman were the only two who had previously played against their opponents.

“I think playing back to back was really difficult,” Owusu said. “We had played CMU first and immediately played Arizona after, so the girls were pretty fatigued, but they did a great job fighting through it — we just fell short.”

Not all wars can be won, but the Bears are slowly getting closer to domination. The wins over Arizona State and Stetson — two competitive teams — further established Cal as a top-tier program, while the narrow loss to Arizona showed that the Bears are still growing.

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