The Bears are beginning to show their relative inexperience at sand volleyball.
Cal (2-4) dropped a 4-1 decision to Stanford (1-6) on Friday in Palo Alto before traveling to Sacramento on Saturday for two matches against Sacramento State (0-6) and Saint Mary’s (7-0). There, the Bears were able to topple Sac State, 3-2, before falling to the Gaels, 5-0.
“We haven’t gotten the best sand practice in to feel super comfortable when we’re playing someone different,” said head coach Rich Feller.
Cal’s practice time this week was cut short by rain in the Bay Area. Stanford, a team that has been playing sand volleyball for a year longer than Cal, took advantage. Stanford’s Brittany Howard and Carly Wopat bested Joan Caloiaro and Adrienne Gehan on the top court, 22-20, 21-19. Meanwhile, Cal’s Sarah Cole and Lara Vukasovic were able to push their opponents into a third set on the No. 2 court. But there too, the Bears fell, 21-19, 10-21, 15-12. Despite the closeness of these matches, the Bears were in a 2-0 hole heading into the final three matches.
Maddy Kerr and Nikki Gombar were able to take a match against the Cardinal, narrowing the gap, but ultimately the Bears were unable to complete a comeback. Sabrina Blackwell and Katarina Milosavljevic fell, 21-12, 21-14, followed by Emily Lunt and Caroline Olson’s loss on court No. 5, 21-18, 21-14.
“If we played them again, it could be the exact opposite result,” Feller said.
The next day, Cal traveled to Sacramento for a doubleheader — the first the Bears have experienced in their short time playing volleyball on the sand.
“It’s a long day,” Feller said. “Each team is really sitting for four hours and playing for one hour. There’s a lot of sitting around, so it’s easy for athletes that are not used to doing that to not know what to do.”
In the first match of the day, against Sac State, Cal switched its top court, putting Cole and Vukasovic — who had come so close to a win the previous day — in the No. 1 spot. Though the match went to a third set, the duo ultimately fell to Sac State’s Kayla Beal and Katie Aprile, 21-18, 20-22, 15-6.
But Cal had already clinched the overall match before that, thanks to wins from three of the other team’s duos. Lunt and Olson dominated on court No. 5 while Kerr and Gombar were able to come back to win in three sets on No. 3. Gehan and Caloiaro, meanwhile, clinched the match with a 21-18, 21-10, win on court No. 2.
In the second match of the day, though, Cal was severely outmatched by Saint Mary’s. The No. 9 Gaels proved they are easily the most talented team the Bears have faced all season. Their players are what Feller calls “medium-sized” athletes who are perfect for sand volleyball, and the starters range in height from 5-foot-9 to 6-foot-1. Cal, by contrast, fields players as short as 5-foot-7 and as tall as 6-foot-5. Saint Mary’s quickly swept the Bears, 5-0.
“They didn’t overpower us, but ball controlled us,” Feller said. “I’d like to play them again sometime.”