With the nonconference stretch of the schedule over and the Cal volleyball team still scrambling to find its identity, the Bears are treading water. Through 11 matches this season, Cal head coach Rich Feller’s squad has proven to be inexperienced, and in arguably the best conference in the nation, Cal must find its identity and shore up offensive and defensive holes while there’s still a boat to save.
The Bears (8-3, 0-1 Pac-12) play their first conference home match of the season when they face off against No. 4 Washington (12-0, 1-0) on Friday at 8 p.m. in Haas Pavilion.
Even against inferior teams in conferences that aren’t as competitive as the Pac-12, the Bears have struggled, especially on offense. Cal ranks dead last in the conference in hitting percentage as well as kills at a .224 percentage and 12.74 kills per set.
The dismal statistics reflect just how much Cal has struggled on offense. Feller’s squad is last in hitting percentage by a healthy margin, and the team’s troubles on offense are even more apparent, considering it struggles to get kills. But it is understandable that the Bears fail to hit and kill at a high rate when factoring in that they don’t assist very well either. After the loss of All-American setter Joan Caloiaro, a drop off in assists was expected, but a drop to this degree thus far is slightly concerning.
Now, the Bears try to get the ball to outside setter Alyssa Jensen almost to a fault. Although she’s fifth in the conference with 10.63 assists per set including a 58-assist showing against Air Force, the Bears sit at 10th in assists in the Pac-12. The frontline can’t get a good look, because the team lacks passing depth. Outside of Jensen, who has 457 assists, no player even cracks 25 assists.
On the other hand, the Huskies boast one of the best offenses in the nation. Their .351 hitting percentage leads the Pac-12 and is going up against a not-so-hot Cal defense. This is most likely connected to the multiple capable passers on the team. Although no Husky comes close to Jensen’s 457, Washington’s two-setter offense spreads the ball more effectively than Cal has thus far.
In addition to sparking their offense, the key for the Bears is to contain 2013 AVCA National Player of the Year Krista Vansant. Vansant accounts for 157 of her team’s total 544 total kills.
The Huskies are as tenacious on defense as they are on offense. Combine Cal’s .224 hitting percentage and Washington’s .150 opponent hitting percentage, and what comes out the other end is another underwhelming performance for the Bears on offense. Even if they’re able to get off clean kills, the Huskies also block 3.12 balls per set — good enough for second in the conference.
If Cal is to have a shot at the match, it has to hit at a higher rate. The Bears feature two dominant front-court players in opposite hitter Christina Higgins and middle blocker Lillian Schonewise. The Huskies are 11th in the conference with 12.10 digs per set, and if Cal can expose this flaw, it can stay competitive throughout and sneak away with a statement victory.
“We got to find a way to get some kills,” Feller said.
Winston Cho covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho