DAVIS — When Cal lost in five sets to Kansas State, fans were hoping it was just a fluke. After all, this was the team that started with a perfect 7-0 record and 21 straight sets won.
But that loss was not a fluke.
The Bears (7-2) fell to UC Davis (7-5) in 4 sets Thursday night (12-25, 25-20, 26-24, 25-20). The loss was not exactly what one would expect when a Pac-12 program — one that was ranked just days ago — takes on a team that took fourth place in the Big West conference last year.
“We definitely played way below our standards,” said Cal coach Rich Feller after the match. “And the Davis team wanted it really bad.”
After an easy first-set victory, the Bears started to let up in the second. In that set, the Bears were rotating players who don’t often see playing time, pulling their starters to give time to some of the backups and freshmen. As a result, the Aggies jumped to an 8-4 lead and never gave up en route to a 25-20 win, tying the match at 1-1.
But the Bears put an end to the backup experiment in the next set, when they came out with all of their starters. Gone were freshmen Alyssa Jensen and Jenelle Jordan, in favor of usual starters Joan Caloiaro and Lara Vukasovic.
But the Aggies didn’t let up.
UC Davis soon led 13-8. Cal’s passing during this period was erratic, and as a result, the attack attempts by the Bears were often poorly set up. When many of Cal’s passes shot up in the air, they allowed the Aggies time to set up blocks. Sometimes, the Bears were simply attacking out of the backcourt — a low-percentage shot.
The only Bear showing much offensive potency was Adrienne Gehan. The Aggies couldn’t stop her. As a result, Cal started funneling the ball her way. She went from 12 attack attempts in the first two sets combined to 18 in the third set alone, bringing her total to 30. She had nine kills in just the third set.
But the Bears were still outhit .357 to .350. And although they started to claw their way back in at the end, they still fell, 26-24.
Suddenly, the Bears were in a place they never expected to be: down 1-2.
The players’ faces said it all. The Bears — usually full of smiles — looked lost on the court. Meanwhile, the Aggies were filled with excitement to be in the game this late.
The fourth set was much the same, except the strategy of giving the ball to Gehan — which looked like it was beginning to be effective in the third set — no longer was working. Davis began setting up blocks in anticipation of the ball going in Gehan’s direction. As a result, she had to force more and more attempts, leading to six errors in the fourth set when she had just two in the three sets prior.
The Aggies took the fourth set, 25-20, clinching the match.
“It might be an anomaly,” Feller said. “Hopefully, it’s not a trend.”