The Bears were hoping to build momentum Friday before taking on the number-one team in the country next week — and they succeeded.
The Cal volleyball team closed out nonconference play Friday with a win against Saint Mary’s. The Bears (8-2) beat the Gaels (4-6) in four sets, taking the game 25-14, 23-25, 25-20, 25-22.
After losing to Pacific a week ago in a match that seemed as though Cal just couldn’t keep up, the Bears’ focus for this game was on their defensive system. Saint Mary’s fast-paced offense was something Cal would be facing while still trying to work out the kinks in its new system.
“We did a little better on defense (than last weekend),” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “It took us a little while to get our blocking to where we wanted it, but that came around as well. It was kind of what set the tone and allowed us to really get some good things going.”
One of the good things Feller is referring to came in the form of the Bears’ junior defensive specialist Mary McKennon, who had one of the best games of her Cal career against the Gaels.
McKennon had a career-high five aces and served eight straight points in the first set alone, helping the Bears take the first set. She also had a few miniruns throughout the rest of the game, with Cal taking the lead in the third set after McKennon delivered a four-point serving run. McKennon went on to add 12 digs to her stats for the night.
“(Mary) got a hold of the serve and didn’t let it go,” Feller said of McKennon’s performance. “She played some really good defense, and even more than those 12 digs was how those digs were had. More than just the 12 digs stats-wise, it was 12 really good digs.”
The Bears’ usual leading scorers also continued to be consistent for Cal. Senior opposite hitter Christina Higgins snagged a .394 hitting percentage and led the Bears with 15 kills against Saint Mary’s. Junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise and freshman outside hitter Christine Alftin both had 12 kills for Cal, with Schonewise adding four blocks and Alftin collecting eight digs.
“I think our serving was considerably better this weekend,” Feller said. “We got Saint Mary’s out of (their) system a lot, and that really helped our offense.”
This final nonconference game was also the last chance for the Bears to establish a starting lineup before conference play begins Tuesday, but at this point, any position is still up for grabs. Cal’s bench has recently displayed that it is up for the task, when several players made their mark at the Molten Classic last weekend.
“We’ve been starting with basically the same lineup with minor adjustments,” said Feller. “There’s still some people competing for a chance to become a starter, and that may be a game-by-game thing for a while. While we might be a little closer to a starting lineup, I think there’s still lots of things we’re doing where we might make some changes down the road.”
Alicia Fong covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]