The Bears have one final game before conference play to get used to the new dynamics in their system — and they may look to a few new faces to do so.
The Cal women’s volleyball team is traveling to Moraga, California, on Friday to take on Saint Mary’s at McKeon Pavilion starting at 7 p.m. Riding a 2-1 record from last weekend’s Molten Classic, the Bears (7-2) will close out nonconference play against the Gaels (4-5) while hoping to build momentum before they take on Stanford next week.
After being swept by Pacific last week in the Bears’ home opener, it was clear there was still a lot of work to be done for this young team. With returners playing new positions and rookies playing positions that were once filled by the Bears’ star players, Cal is still searching for consistency in its lineup.
The biggest challenge for Cal will be tightening up the defense, specifically its blocking. Led by the Gaels’ senior outside hitter Samantha Tinsley, Saint Mary’s fast-paced offense will be another obstacle in the Bears’ ongoing challenge to maintain consistency within their system.
“We have good size,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “We’ve got experience, so we need to kind of hone in on getting more disciplined on the block and getting a little better. I’ll probably repeat this theme a lot — it’s a work in progress, for the year.”
With so many players on the roster, the friendly competition between the players means there are weekly battles for starting positions. As nonconference play wraps up, Feller is looking to establish a finalized starting lineup.
But with the friendly competition also comes the depth of their bench, an advantage showcased in last weekend’s tournament. Freshman specialist Gaby deGuzman saw the court for the first time against UC Santa Barbara. Replacing regular starting freshmen Ashten Smith-Gooden and Christine Alftin, sophomore outside hitter Nikki Gombar and freshman Antzela Dempi racked up more playing time.
“There was a freshman in there instead of a junior or a senior (last weekend), and she was welcomed, and she was just a part of the team,” Feller said. “I think that’s part of the coming together — being able to interchange some of our parts and keep some consistency, or even get better.”
The Bears will also rely on the returners who have consistently shown their leadership since the beginning of the new season.
Junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise has been Cal’s go-to player this season, with the newly appointed captain leading the team with a .351 hitting percentage. Schonewise is also ranked sixth in blocks in the Pac-12 with 1.28 blocks per set.
Sophomore libero Maddy Kerr and senior opposite hitter Christina Higgins were named to the All-American Team in the Molten Classic over the weekend. Kerr, coming off of an impressive freshman season, is averaging 3.75 digs per set. Higgins has also been one of the Bears’ leading scorers, averaging 2.92 kills per set.
“Obviously, it’s a very different team from last year, and we’re asking a lot of new people to fill in different roles,” Higgins said. “The (underclassmen) are getting better and better each day and more incorporated into Cal volleyball.”
Alicia Fong covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]