Cal volleyball takes on USC looking for first Pac-12 win

Cesar Ruiz/Staff

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After a five-set match against Utah last weekend that ended in a heartbreaking loss for Cal, the Bears are finally back in Berkeley.

The Cal volleyball team will take on USC on Wednesday at Haas Pavilion at 7:30 p.m., as the Bears (8-10, 0-8 Pac-12) continue to search for their first conference win.

Looking at both teams’ records, it’s easy to say the Cal squad that currently resides in last place in the Pac-12 is no match for the No. 19 Trojans (11-7, 4-4), who rank eighth in the conference. USC has heavy hitter Samantha Bricio, who has continued to be a dominant offensive force for the Trojans. The junior outside hitter is currently all over the Pac-12 leaderboards, ranking first in service aces and seventh in kills, earning her fifth place in overall points for this season. On USC’s defensive side, sophomore libero Taylor Whittingham proves to be a formidable opponent, coming in at second in the Pac-12 for digs, averaging 4.27 digs per set.

These Trojan statistics may seem daunting to the Bears as they prepare for Wednesday’s game.

If one were to look again at the leaderboards, however, he or she would see this is not the case: The Bears’ senior outside hitter Christina Higgins is right behind Bricio in kills, averaging 3.53 kills per set. Sophomore libero Maddy Kerr comes in fifth for digs in the conference, earning 4.10 per set.

In fact, on paper, Cal has the individual talent necessary for success in the Pac-12. Utilizing their players does not seem to be an issue for the Bears, as they continue to use the depth of the bench to their advantage.

In order to reach that first conference win, instead of looking out for the competition that USC’s players bring, the Bears need to address the main problem that remains on their side of the net: Cal’s seemingly inability to finish a game as strongly as it started. This proved to be true last week, when the Bears dropped a two-set advantage against Utah after being just two points shy of their first conference win.

Cal’s problems with following through can be attributed in part to the lack of experience the younger players have in the fast-paced nature of the Pac-12, where adjustments need to be made on the go, and to the inconsistency the Bears have been showing throughout each set.

“The inexperience is still playing kind of a big role,” Kerr said. “We’re all still making mistakes that we should have corrected a long time ago. They’re definitely starting to come together, but it’s just all the little things.”

Despite the loss against the Utes, the Bears provided even further evidence that they have the tools to be successful in the conference: Higgins had a season-high 23 kills, and Kerr recorded 22 digs. Sophomore setter Alyssa Jensen earned a career-high 59 assists, while freshman outside hitter Christine Alftin had 12 kills.

“The consistency is what we’re looking for,” said junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise. “You know, when one player’s having a great night, another player might not be on her A-game, so we’re looking to string all of those parts together and bring it all. And one of these nights, we’re just going to all have it at the same time, and it’s just going to be great.”

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