Bears enter final weekend of nonconference play

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After a 1-3 start — its worst opening to a season in over a decade — the Cal volleyball team has exploded on a four-game winning streak. With that momentum at hand, the Bears enter this weekend with two tilts against St. Mary’s and University of San Francisco.

Cal (5-3) will host the Gaels this Friday at 7 p.m. at Haas Pavillion. The following evening the Bears will travel across the Bay to match up against the Dons at 6:30 p.m. at the War Memorial Gym.

The weekend — which features Cal’s last two nonconference games before Pac-12 play heats up — will be a litmus test for the Bears, who aspire to return to the top-25 rankings.

“At this point in the season, I can’t say we are where we want to be,” head coach Rich Feller said. “We are getting closer, but we still have injuries to take care of and need to be more experienced with each other.”

The last few matches have brought signs of such increased experience, but Cal still has a ways to go. First and foremost for the Bears to confront are their injury problems. Most notably, senior Correy Johnson missed last weekend’s tournament, and her status this weekend is uncertain. However, Feller has stated that Johnson will most likely play.

St. Mary’s record is more than meets the eye. A 5-4 start has been subpar, but all of the team’s losses have come against ranked teams, including tough losses to Stanford and Hawaii in the beginning of the season.

“St. Mary’s plays an extremely fast offense that you really do not see much of in the Pac-12 and is tough to deal with,” Feller said. “They are going to try and keep the ball low in the air and wait it out so we make the mistakes.”

For Feller, USF is a more familiar team than St. Mary’s. Not only have the two teams played each other, but Cal also has an ex-Don on its current squad.

Junior Joan Caloiaro spent her first two years of collegiate play at USF before transferring to Cal this past year. The setter was named to the WCC All-Freshman team two years ago.

“I came here because Cal is such a reputable school and because the program here is excellent,” Caloiaro said. “It’s a completely different program from over there, and I think we can use that to get a win.”

Cal comes into the USF match with vengeance in mind. Less than two weeks ago, USF handed the Bears a heart-wrenching five set loss. That was the loss that sent the Bears spiraling on a three-game losing streak.

This time around, Cal wants to narrow in on specifics to neutralize USF’s attack. The Bears are wary of the Dons’ offensive philosophies of serving hard, stopping their outsides, and getting quick to the block.

These matches could prove that Cal still has what it takes to be a solid team. With a couple of wins this weekend the Bears could be crawling their way back to relevance.

Karan Karia covers volleyball. Contact him at Tags , , ,