Cal sand volleyball wins first match in school history by knocking off SJSU, 5-0

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

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For a varsity sport, sand volleyball sure doesn’t feel like one.

The environment at Cal’s first home match was calm and laid-back — a night-and-day difference from indoor volleyball. Head coach Rich Feller showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals. The players wore sunglasses and greeted their errors with laughter rather than shouts. Some of the 70 or so fans trickling in and out brought their dogs to the facility, which is pressed into the redwoods behind Clark Kerr.

And as the sun sank lower into the sky Friday afternoon, Cal (1-1) stomped San Jose State in a 5-0 sweep for the Bears’ first win in school history. No pair of Cal players dropped a single set during the day.

“The girls played unbelievably great,” said volunteer assistant coach Nicole Walthall. “They showed a lot of discipline and showed a lot of sand skills that they’ve been developing in practice.”

With just two courts at the facility, the Bears had to play at most only two pairs at a time. Freshmen Caroline Olson and Emily Tunt began the match on the No. 5 court, while Maddy Kerr and Nikki Gombar played on No. 4. Tunt and Olson both walked on in an open tryout a few weeks ago and had the closest match of the day. Still, the duo topped Lyndsay Albiani and Felicia Segura, 21-16, 22-20.

Gombar and Kerr — both players from last season’s indoor squad — solidified a 21-10, 21-11 win over Sabrina Webb and Brittney Diffine. Kerr plays as a libero when she is on the indoor squad, which means she never gets a chance to hit. It showed Friday, when many of the her hits were lobbed just a little too far, landing out of bounds. But Gombar is an outside hitter who redshirted last season due to a shoulder injury. Gombar’s hitting complemented Kerr’s ability to pass and save perfectly, and the two cruised to a victory.

After the first two matches were over, only the No. 3 court played, so both the No. 1 and No. 2 teams could be saved for a final round. This is in place to build suspense — but it did the opposite Friday.

Katarina Milosavljevic and Sabrina Blackwell clinched the match for the Bears by winning the third point, 21-10, 21-6. Like Gombar and Kerr, the two played off of each other’s talents well, with the taller Milosavljevic taking most of the hitting responsibilities while Blackwell contributed to keeping the ball off the sand.

“This past week, we’ve been out here more often, and we’re more comfortable with each other,” Milosavljevic said. “I think it helped a lot that we talked to each other about where to shoot and we kept our serves in.”

But in sand volleyball, there is no room for specialization. Milosavljevic made plenty of crucial saves and Blackwell had plenty of scoring opportunities. In fact, it was Blackwell who scored the winning point with a cut shot, sending the ball nearly parallel with the net to a location neither SJSU player could get to.

Even after that match-clinching point, there still wasn’t an abundance of excitement. The relaxed atmosphere didn’t lend itself to intense celebration, and there were still two more matches to play, even with the result already decided.

The No. 2 team of Lara Vukasovic and Sarah Cole quickly cleaned up its match, 21-14, 21-4. Soon after, the top team of Adrienne Gehan and Joan Caloiaro won, 21-13, 21-15, to secure the sweep.

“I just love it,” Milosavljevic said. “You get more touches on the ball. It’s a lot of fun because it’s like a little puzzle — every single team is different. It’s always fresh; it’s always new; it’s never boring.”

Riley McAtee covers men’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @riley_mcatee