Cal sand volleyball falls to USF, 3-2

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

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In case there was any doubt left, it is clear now that sand volleyball is not a gimmick. After a couple of weeks of lighthearted play, the Bears on Friday played a competitive, intense match that came down to the wire.

Cal (1-2) fell to USF (1-0) in a 3-2 match at the Clark Kerr Sand Courts to open spring break.

“From here on out, preseason is sort of over now,” said Cal coach Rich Feller. “We have to win as many matches as possible. There is going to be some serious competition.”

Freshmen Caroline Olson and Emily Lunt began the day on the No. 5 court. They were wrapped up in a tight match with USF’s Emily Reed and Inbar Vinarsky. The Bears traded blows with the Dons, despite being a combined 14 inches shorter than their competition. Eventually, the Cal duo found itself down one, 14-13, in a third set tiebreaker with the Dons serving for match point.

Lunt and Olson returned the ball once, and then a second time, but could never get good kill attempts close to the net. Eventually, the ball was tipped at the net, and Caroline saved it from touching the sand, but she had to go under the net to do so, making contact with the Don blocker. The official blew his whistle, signaling interference under the net — a penalty. The point, and the match, went to the Dons, 16-21, 21-19, 15-13. The missed opportunity would ultimately come back to haunt the Bears.

Court No. 4 was similarly close, also going into a third set. But Katarina Milosavljevic and Sabrina Blackwell were able to clean up their match, winning 22-20, 19-21, 15-6. Still, the Bears headed into the third match in a 1-1 tie.

Cal’s Maddy Kerr and Nikki Gombar hung with Katarina Pilepic and Courtney Sabahi for the first set but eventually were overpowered by their opponents. Kerr had issues when attacking. Her balls often floated too far over the baseline or hit the net. Her most effective shot was a cut shot — when she sent the ball nearly parallel to the net so that it hit the sand in a spot where the opponents couldn’t reach it.

She and Gombar, who was playing with three bright strips of athletic tape on her right shoulder, fell just short of upsetting the Dons, falling 22-20, 21-19.

“We made a lot of errors,” Feller said. “If you take away a few of those, maybe that makes a difference.”

Cal entered the final two matches with its back against the wall — needing both of them to win.

Adrienne Gehan and Joan Caloiaro could not find a rhythm on the top court. When they fell, 21-16, 21-18, the match was already over, as the Dons had three of the five possible points. And though Sarah Cole and Lara Vukasovic were able to win in a tiebreaker on the No. 4 court, the Bears as a whole had already fallen.

“Losing a match is not fun ever, but we were two points away with our No. 5 team from winning the match,” Feller said.

Contact Riley McAtee at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter