There were feelings of euphoria and magic Saturday afternoon as then-No. 13 Cal beach volleyball defeated its rival — then-No. 12 Stanford — at the the Big Spike Picnic and Senior Day, just a week after dropping a dual to the Cardinal.
Seventy degrees, bright sun, music blaring from the speakers and fans lining the perimeter of the courts created a picture-perfect atmosphere for the Bears’ 3-2 win over the Cardinal.
“Today’s match was the most fired up we’ve been to play the whole season,” said senior Jessica Gaffney. “We got beat by Stanford last weekend, so for one, we wanted to get revenge and upset them. For two, it’s a school rivalry that runs so deep. And for three, it’s our Senior Day and Cal Day, so we had a huge event, tons of fans — all the energy was on our side.”
Last week’s 3-2 loss to the Cardinal began with the Bears’ two wins on courts 4 and 5 — exactly how the teams opened Saturday’s dual.
Junior Mia Merino and freshman Caroline Schafer, the second-ranked No. 4 pair in the nation, picked up Cal’s first win of the day in straight sets, defeating their opponents 21-16 each time.
While Cal’s No. 4 pair established its dominance, the ongoing match between the No. 5 pairs made everyone cling to their seats as Cal dropped its first set to Stanford. Junior Grace Campbell and freshman Maddie Micheletti (24-1) have only dropped four other sets throughout the entirety of the season.
The duo regained its footing though, dominating the second set, 21-13, and the third set, 15-9.
Though the Bears headed into the third match of the day with a 2-0 lead, they knew to stay grounded, as they couldn’t repeat falling in all three of the top matches.
Cal head coach Meagan Owusu toggled with her lineup for the final regular-season match, separating the all-freshmen pair that played at the No. 1 slot for most of the season.
Although sophomore Iya Lindahl and freshman Alexia Inman struggled defending against Stanford, falling 21-18, 21-13, Gaffney and Mirkovic were thriving together.
Perhaps Gaffney and Mirkovic’s experience playing together for the indoor team last season helped compensate for their nonexistent history as beach partners; their visible passion ultimately allowed them to topple the Cardinal’s Amelia Smith and Morgan Hentz.
There was nervous excitement in the air during the first set, as Gaffney and Mirkovic had set point at 20-18 but dropped two points to tie it back up at 20-20.
“We were really hyped up, so the jitters were making us make some errors and do more than we had to,” Gaffney said. “Just go back to the basics to do what we need to win.”
During the second set, the Cardinal hung tight to the Bears, but a string of points for Cal and quick side outs allowed the pair to take a more clear lead. At 19-16, Gaffney’s ace down the middle of the court solidified the likelihood of a Cal win.
“I knew it was about to be game point and we had switched our strategy — we were keeping it on one girl the entire time — and that game point serve, I was like, I need to serve middle-middle and make them think about it,” Gaffney said. “They just let it drop.”
As the team closes out the regular season with a win in one of the most competitive matches the Bears have played, Cal beach volleyball’s future appears brighter than ever.
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].