With a rivalry as deep as this, it seems only fitting to start the regular season off with the Big Spike.
The Cal women’s volleyball team is taking on No. 7 Stanford in the Big Spike this Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. The Bears (7-2) will open conference play against the Cardinal (7-2) after a disappointing loss to UC Davis last weekend to end the preseason.
“There was a little uneasy feeling as soon as (the Aggies) were starting to get ahead, and we went into sort of a panic mode,” said senior Adrienne Gehan. “It just can’t happen again, and I don’t think it will happen against Stanford.”
For Gehan, this will be her last Big Spike at home. The senior outside hitter ranks third in the conference and 21st nationally and fuels the offensive attacks for the Bears with 4.30 kills per set. Gehan will have to go head-to-head with the Cardinal’s middle blocker, senior Carly Wopat, who ranks third in the Pac-12 in blocks with an average of 1.36 blocks per set.
The Bears emerged from the preseason victorious, only dropping their first set a week ago. The serve-and-pass game that has been preached by head coach Rich Feller has disappeared in the last two games, resulting in Cal’s only losses for the preseason.
“I think maybe there was an air of overconfidence against Davis,” said Feller. “Hopefully (the lack of fluid passing) was a bit of an anomaly and something we just didn’t take care of when we should have.”
The Cardinal was chosen in the preseason poll to win the conference championship, with the Bears slated to finish seventh in the Pac-12. With this in mind, not to mention the rivalry between the two schools, Cal surely has something to prove with the upcoming Big Spike, especially after finishing its promising preseason with two tough losses.
Though the key to beating Stanford will lie once more in the Bears’ ability to pass and serve, Cal’s blocking also comes into question as one of the main reasons the Bears have not been successful the past two games. When a block occurs, the surrounding defense has more time to set up around the block, thus giving them more time to retaliate against the opponent’s offensive strikes. With the lack of blocking comes a lack of effective defense.
“Stanford has as good an offensive weapon as any in the country, and in order to neutralize those weapons, we have to serve tough,” said Feller. “That might mean missing some serves, and our blocking and defense has to be prepared to defend our offense if we don’t serve tough enough.”
After a 21-set win streak and then losing the last two games against Kansas State and UC Davis, the Bears are looking to get back the positive momentum they had during most of the first half of the preseason.
The best way to do this would be to beat their nemesis.
“Being the underdog seems to have helped us a little bit in early parts of this season,” said Feller. “Perhaps that will help us again.”