No. 13 Cal beach volleyball upsets defending champions

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Joshua Jordan/File

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It may have been raining and pouring, but No. 13 Cal beach volleyball definitely wasn’t snoring as the team split its duals at the Pac-12 North Invitational in Seattle this weekend.

Saturday began with Cal facing Washington for the second time this season. While the Bears swept the Huskies, 5-0, the last time around, Washington upset Cal this time, 3-2, winning on courts one, two and three.

Cal’s lineup against Washington was different than the past several matches, with freshmen Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman switching courts one and two with senior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Iya Lindahl.

Junior Mia Merino and freshman Caroline Schafer also played at a new spot, taking court three instead of court four.

“They definitely had the home-court advantage, but it was more a matter of us taking care of our side of the net rather than where we were playing,” Merino said. “We didn’t really play our game that match, and if we were playing our game, I have no doubt that we would’ve won.”

Cal rebounded to dominate against Oregon later in the day, taking a 5-0 win. Sophomore Abby Waldburger made the first appearance of her collegiate career as she teamed with Schafer on court four to win, 21-12, 21-16.

With a long-standing determination to beat then-No. 4 USC, Cal took the courts Sunday morning eager to rewrite history. And while most say history repeats itself, the Bears proved most wrong.

“Going into the match, everyone was super pumped,” Merino said. “We were super close to beating them the first time we played them. We were ready to take them down.”

After Cal beat its opponents on courts two and five, Merino and Schafer were left to decide the fate of the match. While the duo beat USC’s graduate student Alexandra Poletto and freshman Haley Hallgren in the first set, the Trojans came back to dominate the second set, 21-13, forcing a tiebreaker. The Bears’ win in the third set solidified their victory over the Trojans.

“It was 13-13 at one point, and the third game goes to 15,” Merino said. “I felt full confidence in (Schafer) and in myself that we were going to win that game. USC has been a goal for us since my freshman year, and actually achieving that goal feels amazing.”

Merino and Schafer maintained their strong performance and went on to win their match against then-No. 14 Stanford later in the day, but the team ultimately fell to the Cardinal, 3-2.

Two of the losses to Stanford were especially close, with the Bears falling in a third set. Senior Bryce Bark and sophomore Madison Dueck, playing on court two, were especially competitive with their opponents.

After falling, 26-24, in the first set, the duo pushed a third set with a 30-28 win in the second set, but the Bears couldn’t continue matching their opponents, eventually falling, 15-10.

The Bears fell to the Cardinal this time around, but they won’t have to wait long for another opportunity, as they welcome the Cardinal at home Saturday. Before Saturday’s dual rolls around, Cal will be busy with another one, as the team plays No. 20 St. Mary’s on Tuesday for the third time this season.

The Bears have split their matches against the Gaels. Cal lost, 3-2, in its season opener but rebounded to win, 4-1, at home a few weeks later. The teams will face each other in Moraga, but the Bears are in good shape to power over the Gaels again.

“I think that our team is super special as in we have a really good team culture,” Merino said. “We are always cheering each other on and are really supportive. In other teams you don’t see that as much, and we are super lucky to have that.”

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