Cal volleyball prepares for 1st road trip of season, will face 3 teams in 2 days

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Yukun Zhang/File

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This weekend, Cal volleyball travels to the Mount Rushmore State — South Dakota — for the team’s first away tournament. Although the faces of sophomore Preslie Anderson and senior Carmen Annevelink won’t be carved in stone, the Bears will likely leave the tournament carving out a name for themselves.

The Bears will open their weekend Friday with an early match against Northern Colorado before they play the host team — South Dakota — later that evening. Cal will face Northeastern, its final opponent of the tournament, Saturday morning.

Northern Colorado (1-2) enters the tournament with promising potential. Last week, the team nearly toppled No. 12 Illinois, taking the first set and pushing the Fighting Illini to a deciding fifth set.

Although Northern Colorado ended its 2017 season with a losing record, the team’s near-upset over Illinois demonstrates its players’ talent and chemistry. To jolt a traditionally strong program this early in the season is a testament to how players can work well together on the court.

If Cal is caught off guard or still adjusting to playing in a new environment, Northern Colorado could certainly take a set, if not the match, from the Bears.

But with much of Cal’s practice this week dedicated to preparing for the first battle, Cal seems poised and prepared to take the win.

“Now that all the teams have played a weekend, we are able to get some video analysis,” said Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr. “We’re working on our scouting report, we’ve got a video session later, … and we’re seeing what do they do differently that we can incorporate in our gym this week.”

Cal’s coaching staff is playing attention to Northern Colorado’s pace — particularly the team’s fast offense.

“They’re really good in transition, and they like to set it fast to the pin,” Dorr said. “That will definitely put a strain on our defense, so that’s one of the things we’ve been working on.”

Cal will have some time to relax and recuperate after the match before taking on South Dakota (2-1). The Coyotes, who ended their 2017 season 17-11, won 10 of 12 matches in the latter part of their season, blasting past their Summit League competition.

While Cal’s opening weekend appeared promising and hinted that the Bears could sweep another round of pre-conference competition, the hosts will naturally be looking to claim the tournament title.

Just about 12 hours after the Bears and Coyotes finish their showdown, Cal will finish things out with Northeastern at 9:30 a.m. Saturday for its final match of the tournament.

Northeastern returns experienced talent but also features younger faces that are already impacting its program. Huskies freshman Hannah Boyd tallied 13 kills in the team’s last 3-2 victory, while sophomore Gabrielle Tschannen recorded a .429 hitting percentage.

Northeastern’s offense appears promising, but the Bears have been working throughout the offseason on strengthening their defense. Last weekend, Cal’s presence at the net showed the team’s efforts in action.

Above all, Dorr is looking for the continual set-by-set improvement she saw from the team at the Cal Molten Classic.

“It’s going to be a little shaky — we’re facing another new opponent that we don’t have a ton of data on or familiarity with, but that we learn and improve through each set … is what’s most important,” Dorr said.

The trip will be the team’s first away journey, and for the six freshmen, it will be their very first collegiate travel experience.

“It’ll be our first travel trip, and it’s a long travel trip,” Dorr said. “It’s two flights, a bus ride and two time zones over. Getting used to that for the newcomers and reminding the returners of how to take care of ourselves on the road will be paramount to our success.”

What the Bears can accomplish this weekend will not warrant a statue in their name but certainly will help lay the foundation for the season yet to come.

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