The Bears have struggled with their inability to produce points all season, and it showed as Cal lost yet again to the mountain schools.
The Cal volleyball team took on No. 19 Colorado and No. 23 Utah this weekend, resulting in a sweep by the Buffs and a four-set loss to the Utes.
The Bears (9-19 overall, 1-17 Pac-12) have been struggling all season with consistency, or more specifically, the lack of consistency Cal seems to be putting on display. After upsetting No. 21 USC last weekend, the Bears were hoping the wins would come easier now that the first conference win was out of the way. Unfortunately, after a dismal performance Friday night against the Buffs (18-12, 10-8), the Bears came out flat against the Utes (17-12, 7-11) and fell 25-8, 25-22, 21-25, 25-16.
A big problem for Cal has been its inability to score, which on paper should not be an issue — senior opposite hitter Christina Higgins is a formidable opponent against any team, ranking eighth in the Pac-12 in kills while averaging 3.82 kills per set. Redshirt junior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise has consistently put up points for the Bears, coming in at ninth in the conference with a .332 hitting percentage. Sophomore libero Maddy Kerr is more frequently than not earning double digits in digs every match.
But the thing all of Cal’s big-impact players have in common are their status — they are all returners, coming off of a team who made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season. Losing two of their most valuable players to graduation, the Bears were looking for new faces to step up and take the lead. While they may have found new leaders in the returners, Cal has yet to find someone as impactful as the graduated Adrienne Gehan, the Bears’ go-to offensive player who led the team in kills.
“It’s been a consistent struggle all season where we’re going to find points,” Schonewise said. “One of our biggest issues today is that we couldn’t get the ball to multiple people to score points. We didn’t have enough hitters that were efficient in the front row to score points.”
The lack of an impact player on offense for Cal was highlighted against the Utes, when the Bears only managed eight points in the first set. Despite battling back to force Utah to four sets, Cal struggled most of the game and ultimately fell short.
The Bears have the components to win, but as showcased in their big win against the Trojans, the only way for them to be successful is for all of their players to bring their A-game on the same night. Last season, if Cal was struggling, Gehan would step up until everyone else could catch up. The difference this season is that the Bears are missing that person — and they’ve been struggling the entire season to find them.
“It’s been a tough season, but I think our biggest goal for the end of the season is just to go out on a positive note,” Schonewise said. “We’ve done a good job of leaving it all out there. There are some spurts of brilliance out there.”
Alicia Fong covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]