On paper, the Boise State and Sacramento State sand volleyball teams looked reasonably unimpressive, with both teams struggling to find any sort of consistency or footing all season long. Cal had beat the Hornets earlier to start the season, and while the Broncos and Bears had not played each other yet, Boise State had started the season with a five-game losing streak. But in a surprising turn of events, the Bears returned home from the nearby Sac State Tournament with two more losses tacked onto their record.
Boise State (3-6) eked out a narrow 3-2 victory against Cal to start Saturday, bringing the Broncos’ tournament record to 3-0. In Cal’s game against Sac State (5-8), the Bears would lose another heartbreaking match, 3-2, and would leave the Sac State Tournament winless.
“Our struggles were more due to a lack of experience than a lack of athleticism,” said associate head coach Meagan Schmitt. “We have all the individual pieces to be successful, and that’s why we are successful at times, but it’s just a matter of playing these tough matches consistently.”
The Cal team — primarily made up of former club and recreational sand volleyball players, with a couple of players from the Cal indoor volleyball team sprinkled in — regularly plays teams that use all-indoor-player teams. Because of this, the young Bears are severely lacking in not only experience but at times in athleticism as well. Schmitt, however, attributed the close losses to the Broncos and Hornets primarily to experience. This showed when Cal pairs had the opportunity to win sets but couldn’t capitalize on an ace or a kill.
As a testament to this, the No. 1 pair of junior Sarah Cole and sophomore Emily Lunt was the only pair to win both of its matches. Cole is a former indoor player for the Bears, and Lunt is one of only two players to earn a spot on last year’s sand volleyball team through open tryouts.
“It really came down to controlling our side of the net,” Cole said. “We had great first and second contact to set up plays to be very simple and super efficient offensively, and when we do that, it sort of puts the other team on the ropes and makes it difficult for them to be successful.”
Owed to a lack of athleticism and experience, the Bears primarily focused on strategy and ball placement in lieu of power and speed in preparation for the Sac State Tournament. Schmitt was optimistic about Cal’s growth, as she heard a lot of communication between setters and hitters, creating good looks for kills. The next step for Cal is experiencing enough close matches to be able to capitalize on open opportunities and end sets. Despite the Bears losing on courts 2, 3 and 4, every set of all three matches was within five points, indicating a back-and-forth duel.
“We’re obviously a smaller team and not as physical, so being smart and having a high level of ball control throughout the match is going to be our biggest obstacle,” Cole said. “And when we execute on the things that we’re good at, that’s when we win.”
Winston Cho covers sand volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho