In the third set of Saturday’s match against the University of San Francisco, the Cal volleyball team found itself tied late in a set for the third time.
In the other two sets, the Bears conceded three straight points each time.
This time around was no different.
Three consecutive strikes put Cal into another hole, and the team eventually fell in straight sets (25-21, 25-21, 25-21).
The Bears’ struggles stemmed primarily from a lack of depth.
Cal entered the match with a five-game winning streak. However, in practices the Bears suffered from the absence of injured players such as Correy Johnson and Robin Rostratter.
Cal was unable to handle the adversity, which was more due to the Bears’ disorganization than the Dons’ aggressive play.
“We never really played in sync and never had those moments where we felt in control,” coach Rich Feller said. “It felt like we were on the defensive a lot.”
From the onset, the Bears’ strikes seemed tentative; meanwhile, USF played aggressively, backed by a small, but emotional home crowd.
“It was a much smaller gym,” Feller said. “It was a closer environment and even though they had already beaten us, they would would make one big play and the crowd would explode.”
The Dons would begin scoring sprees at different times in the match, forcing Feller to call timeouts. Any momentum Cal built out of the timeout was squashed by a USF play — such as a thunderous block — that jumpstarted the crowd once again
After Cal tied up the contest at 19 apiece in the first set, USF outside hitter Jocelyn Levig powered home three straight kills en route to 20 total for the game.
With all the timeouts used up, the Bears were unable to stop the game or bring in new players during critical stretches.
“With the limited subs and timeouts, once the game starts going away, it’s more difficult because you have already pulled out everything you have,” Feller said. “If somebody struggles, I can’t get them off the court to refocus, so they just have to work through it.”
One of the stars who struggled under these conditions was Johnson, who has been limited as of late due to a stress reaction in her leg. Although Johnson led the team with eight kills, she committed four unforced errors.
“We have to count the number of times [Johnson] jumps and, playing back-to-back nights, she jumped a whole lot,” Feller said. “She doesn’t get the timing with the setter, that’s attributed to her not being able to practice and play a lot.”
The rapid pace of the early season has been unforgiving for the Bears and the USF game came during one of the most tiring stretches. The poor start to the 2012 campaign leaves Cal with ground to make up. But their issues right now are not tactical, but more physical, problems that will be solved with time.
“We just have to get some people back on the court,” Feller said.
Austin Crochetiere covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]