Cal volleyball hosts two Pac-12 rivals from Arizona

Cesar Ruiz/Staff

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The Bears have a busy weekend at Haas Pavilion.

The Cal volleyball team will take on No. 20 Arizona State (16-9 overall, 6-7 Pac-12) and No. 16 Arizona (18-6, 7-5) this weekend, kicking it off with Friday’s game against the Sun Devils at 7 p.m. Then the Bears (8-14, 0-12) will face the Wildcats on Sunday at 11 a.m.

The last time the Bears faced these two teams, Cal managed to win only one set, ultimately leading to a sweep by the Wildcats and a four-set loss to the Sun Devils.

After losing to both Oregon schools last weekend, the Bears are still struggling to claim their first Pac-12 victory this season. With a loss against each Pac-12 team under their belt, facing the second half of conference play means Cal has even less time to make the necessary adjustments to become successful.

Based on the number of points the Bears have taken to losing by recently, it’s clear that improvements have been made by Cal — despite only winning one set in most of their losses, the Bears are only a few points behind in each match. In such a fast-paced and competitive conference like the Pac-12, any little thing can be the difference between success and failure — which is what Cal is counting on.

“I know the last times we’ve faced these teams, our defense was doing a few different things, and we’ve solidified that recently,” said junior defensive specialist Sarah Cole. “I think that a lot of it has to do with what’s done on our side of the court. The past few games we’ve really shown a lot of improvement, and if we can run our offense, that’s going to be huge for us against these teams.”

Individually, the Bears’ components on both offense and defense are coming together as the season progresses. Senior outside hitter Christina Higgins continues to improve each match, currently averaging 3.78 kills per set, high enough to be ranked eighth in the Pac-12. Junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise leads the Bears in blocks, averaging 1.03 per set. Sophomore libero Maddy Kerr is ranked fourth in the conference for digs, averaging 4.17 per set.

Several Cal players seem to be having breakout seasons as well, with redshirt sophomore Nikki Gombar finding her way back to the court after being injured last season and contributing a few kills of her own every game, while Cole earned a season-high 20 digs last weekend. Sophomore setter Alyssa Jensen is beginning to gain momentum as well, recording a season-high 59 assists against Oregon State on Sunday.

The biggest issue for the Bears is the struggle for everyone on their team to be on their best game at the same time. The ingredients for success are evident, and it seems Cal could just be on the cusp of their first win — if only the team can learn how to bring it all together.

“We show flashes of really good things, and a big part of it is just being in sync all at the same time,” Cole said. “When we do that, we win sets. But it’s hard to sustain that against a Pac-12 team for a five-set match, so if we can show consistency and finally get synchronized for all five sets, I think we’ll come out with a win.”

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