After first loss this season, Cal volleyball team wins next two

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The Bears suffered their first loss this past weekend, but instead of letting it weigh them down, they managed to turn it around — in the course of an hour.

The Cal women’s volleyball team is coming back to Berkeley after a 2-1 weekend, emerging from the New Mexico State tournament with a 5-1 overall record.

The Bears opened the tournament Friday against Radford (5-2), losing in five sets to the Highlanders. Radford, who was recently picked to win the Big South Title for the second year in a row, took the final set 15-12 and handed Cal its first loss of the season.

“(Radford) outplayed us,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “Pretty much from the very beginning, they played longer and harder than we did and beat out a win. We just didn’t pay enough attention to the details that we should have.”

But there was not a whole lot of time for the Bears to analyze the loss in depth — in fact, there was only enough time to eat a light snack and watch some film before they were back on the court an hour later to take on North Dakota State. Cal managed to regroup from the loss earlier that morning and sweep the Bison (1-5), taking the first three sets 25-16, 25-18, 25-18.

Going into Saturday after splitting matches the previous day, the Bears took on New Mexico State, determined to keep Radford their only loss of the weekend. And trailing two sets to one, their chances looked bleak, until senior opposite hitter Christina Higgins came alive.

The Bears managed to take the fourth set 25-20, and in the fifth set alone, Higgins had five of her 13 kills, ultimately securing the victory for Cal, 15-12.

Helping Higgins secure the win against the Aggies (3-3) was junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise, who continues to be a consistent offensive powerhouse for the Bears. Schonewise led the team with 17 kills, and a .390 hitting percentage.

“Lillian has one of the fastest arms in the conference,” Feller said of their starting middle blocker. “If we can get the ball to her, she can be pretty successful.”

Schonewise’s success on offense opens up doors for the rest of the team as well. With her quick arm, teams are forced to put two blockers on her, allowing Cal’s setter Alyssa Jensen to get the ball to the outside hitter. Because of the forced double-team on Schonewise, the outside hitter is able to go one-on-one against the blocker on the opposing side.

That proved to be true this weekend, with freshman outside hitter Ashten Smith-Gooden earning 13 kills against New Mexico State. Smith-Gooden is rapidly becoming a staple in the Bears’ offense despite her young age.

“They’re growing up really fast,” Feller said of the young hitters in the Bears’ offensive system. “As left-side hitters in college volleyball, you’re asked to do quite a bit. They are asked to hit a lot of balls out of system that we can’t get to Lillian or Lara. They’re asked to block, and they have to block the Lillian’s on the other side of the net. They’re asked to be carrying a big load.”

Alicia Fong covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]