In a sink-or-swim ocean of towering waves of sand volleyball teams, the Cal squad is treading and barely keeping its head above water, constantly being bombarded by teams with twice the experience and size. But the Bears have the rare opportunity to play a team with as much, or as little, experience as they have this weekend at the Sacramento State Tournament.
As sand volleyball was just recently approved as an NCAA sport last season, most — if not all — Pac-12 teams use their indoor volleyball players on the sand courts. Cal (4-8), however, held open tryouts and carried over just three players from its indoor team. The double-header against Boise State (0-5) and Sacramento State (2-5) on Saturday at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, will be a good indicator of the inexperienced but youthful team’s growth since the start of the season.
The three players who made the switch from indoor to the sand courts are sophomores Emily Lunt and Sabrina Blackwell and junior Sarah Cole. That leaves nine players on the team who have never played collegiate volleyball before this season — indoor or sand — on the roster, with six being freshmen. Associate head coach Meagan Schmitt, however, detailed her squad’s youth as a potent mixture of potential and experience.
“Our strength is definitely our ball control and knowledge of the game,” Schmitt said. “We’re able to put the ball where we want it to be … on the flip side, we are significantly undersized compared to most of the teams we’re playing. While our opponents can get up and hammer the ball, we have to win by putting the ball in a smart place.”
The Bears’ intangible strengths, unfortunately, have not made up for years of volleyball experience and athleticism most of the time, as the squad has lost six of its last seven matches. Fortunately for Cal, the Broncos have yet to find any sort of success this season, with three of their five losses coming from sweeps. And the Hornets, like the Bears, have struggled to find a rhythm as of late, losing three straight games, with their most recent loss being a sweep to Washington.
“I think something we’ve emphasized all season, and especially this weekend, is focusing on our side,” Cole said. “So no matter what opponent it is, we’re trying to control our offensive game than anything else. But something we’re focusing on right now is good sets and good calls as a setter, and that means seeing the other side of the court and letting your hitter know what’s open, and that’s our goal for executing this weekend.
In the team’s last meeting, Cal was able to handily put away Sacramento State for its second win of the season. The Bears’ No. 1 pair of Cole and Lunt put away its opponents in two sets, 21-11, 21-16, and after four other Cal duos finished off their opponents, the Bears handed the Hornets a stinging 5-0 loss.
“We’re about a third of the way into the season, and we’ve identified our strengths and our weaknesses,” Schmitt said. “We are a bunch of undersized sand player,s so we have to focus on using our skill and our strategy to win games against these big, physical indoor players.”
Winston Cho covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho