Cal volleyball will play for first Pac-12 win against Arizona

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When the Bears host Arizona at 8 p.m. on Friday, both teams will be competing for the same opportunity: to put a loss against a rival behind them and to jump to .500 in Pac-12 play.

Cal (7-3, 0-1 Pac-12) is coming off a loss to Stanford on Wednesday night and is in the midst of a three-match losing streak after starting the season 7-0. The Wildcats (10-3, 0-1), meanwhile, are coming off the losing end of a sweep against Arizona State.

Although the Bears have lost their last three, their most recent match, against rival No. 7 Stanford, was one of the best performances the team has put in all year. Cal kept the match close and did not lose any of the four sets by more than three points.

“It was a hard loss,” said middle blocker Lillian Schonewise. “But I think it motivated us to come out, play strong and prove ourselves again.”

Although the Wildcats lost in a sweep to the Sun Devils, that match was also much closer than the box score indicates, as nearly every set went down to the wire. But the result is still a loss, and both the Wildcats and the Bears find themselves in the same position: in an 0-1 conference hole. In a conference as tough as the Pac-12, which currently features six ranked teams, every win is crucial, and both teams will be desperate to take this contest.

For the Bears to have success, they will have to play much as they did in that game against Stanford. In that match, Cal was able to move the ball well, allowing the team to run its offense effectively.

“If we can come out with the same intensity and focus we had against Stanford, I think we’ll be good,” said Cal coach Rich Feller. “We need to keep serving tough to take a team out of their system and let our blocks and our defense kind of carry the day a little bit.”

For Arizona, the strategy will be much the same. The Wildcats will need to serve effectively to try to rattle Cal’s offense, something the Cardinal, with 12 serving errors, failed to do Wednesday.

Arizona will also need clutch performances from its star players, such as Madi Kingdon, who leads her team with 4.45 kills per set. But Kingdon’s hitting percentage is at a relatively low .215, indicating that the Wildcats will need her to be more consistent if they want to win.

The Bears, meanwhile, will need to continue to get all of their talented players involved. Adrienne Gehan is the undisputed leader of the team and often finishes the night leading the team in both kills and digs. For Cal to win, the team needs to balance Gehan’s touches with those of other players, something the Bears did effectively against Stanford. They need players such as Lara Vukosovic, Christian Higgins and Lillian Schonewise, all of whom are averaging more than two kills per set and had double-digit kills against Stanford, to show up in force again.

If the team can once again play as it did against the Cardinal, the result this time should be a win instead of a close loss.

“It’s the little things in practice that we need to tweak,” Schonewise said. “But nothing major.”

Riley McAtee covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @riley_mcatee.