Cal sand volleyball faces SJSU in first home game

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Maddy Kerr (left) and Nikki Gombar (right) celebrate during Cal's match against UOP.

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With a University as old as UC Berkeley, not many firsts are still to be had. But the sand volleyball team will deliver one in the form of its first home match in school history.

Cal will take on San Jose State this Friday at 4 p.m. at Clark Kerr Sand Courts. The Bears (0-1) and the Spartans (0-2) are new to the sand volleyball scene, with both schools having just implemented sand volleyball as a collegiate sport this year.

After the Bears’ losing debut last weekend, Cal has only about two weeks of practice under its belts, having just recently finished spring training for indoor season. The only exception were the pair of seniors Adrienne Gehan and Joan Caloiaro. Though Gehan and Caloiaro were two of the top players for the indoor volleyball team this past season, they’re on the same page as everyone else when it comes to the sand.

“It’s two versus two — there’s no hiding in the crowd,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “Here, you’re touching the ball every other time. It’s you or her — one of you has to play the ball. [Sand volleyball] is a great equalizer.”

The Bears’ sand volleyball team is full of players from last year’s indoor team, which made it to the second round of the NCAAs. Gehan, Cal’s top scorer who earned All-Pac 12 honors last year, is on the roster as well as Caloiaro, Cal’s top setter. Pac-12 All-Freshman team member Maddy Kerr will also take to the sand, after a breakout performance this past season as the Bear’s starting libero. Sophomores Lara Vukasovic and Sarah Cole, the only pair who walked away with a win in Cal’s loss against Pacific last weekend, will also be back, looking to duplicate their success.

But Feller refers to the sport as an equalizer for a reason, and although the accolades the Cal team has piled up due to the veteran indoor volleyball players, each player still has to learn the ins and outs of sand volleyball. Playing in pairs means building endurance and stamina to last the same amount of points as one would in indoor volleyball, but with only one teammate instead of five.

“The basic skills are the same, but the strategy, and just moving in the sand, jumping in the sand, two people versus six people — it’s very, very different,” Gehan said. “The first few weeks I would fall doing everything — fall jumping, fall when I landed — moving in the sand is challenging.”

Even the most accomplished of Cal’s indoor team has been having to adjust to the transition between the different styles of play. But due to the new nature of the sand volleyball league, the Bears are not the only one who are in a transition period.

While the Bears work on adapting to the new challenges sand volleyball presents, their opposition is going through the same thing. San Jose State’s sand volleyball team is also made up primarily of indoor players, and the lack of experience from both teams allows for a relatively small scouting report.

“[The Spartans are] using all of their indoor players, pretty much like we are, so really knowing anything about them is probably less important than trying to figure out what we’re doing on our side,” Feller said.

Alicia Fong covers women’s swim. Contact her at [email protected]