Cal sand volleyball returns from facing Pac-12 foes at Stanford Invitational

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It may only be sand volleyball’s second season as an NCAA sport, but the Pac-12 is already full of athletic, experienced players who made the switch from indoor to sand volleyball. That is why Cal returned from the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, California, in high spirits, even though it finished with a losing record.

The Bears (5-12) took on teams from their own conference for the first time this season at the invitational and, despite a rough loss to No. 8 UCLA on Friday, were able to notch a win against Oregon, 3-2, and take an undefeated Washington to five matches the day after.

“I think what it all came down to was we were successful when we controlled our side of the court,” said sophomore Emily Lunt. “Like I was saying earlier, when you’re playing bigger teams like Oregon and Washington, when we were able to control our side and force errors and not let them make big hits, that’s when we were at our best.”

Cal drew first blood against UCLA (8-1) when the No. 5 pair of Sammy Furlan and Mackenzie Feldman finished their opponents off in two sets. Down one, 18-17, Furlan and Feldman were able to close out the first set by scoring four unanswered points. And after an early back-and-forth, Cal went on to comfortably take the second set and get on the scoreboard for the Bears.

Unfortunately for Cal, however, Furlan and Feldman’s victory was the team’s only one of the day, with only the No. 1 pair of Lunt and junior Sarah Cole taking their match to three sets in the Bears’ four losses. Lunt and Cole took a long first set, behind back-to-back aces by Lunt, tied at 19-19. The Bruins, however, easily took the first set, 21-10, and took the tie-breaker, 15-13, in a third set that could have gone either way.

“They just ended up having more rest than we did, and they had good ball control as well,” Lunt said. “They were able to execute some more plays than we were, unfortunately. But I think the runs and the momentum they gained from that were really off the map.”

Cal fared better at the second day of the invitational when its No. 1, 3 and 5 pairs notched wins against their Oregon (1-4) opponents. The No. 3 pair of senior Inanna Eshoo and freshman Katie Regalia easily knocked off their opponents, 21-15, 21-12, continuing their stellar play and improving their record to 11-5 on the season. Cal’s No. 5 pair of senior Allison Leong and freshman Teya Neff similarly had no trouble dispatching their opponents, winning in two sets, 21-13, 21-10.

The game against Washington (8-0), however, proved to be a slugfest. Cal’s No. 1 and 3 pairs were able to get wins in grueling, hard-fought victories, with the Huskies taking the points for courts No. 2, 3 and 5 and proving worthy of their 8-1 record.

“(Playing Pac-12 teams) feels pretty good because we knew that Oregon and Washington were going to be pretty tough teams — so coming in with shorter players, they probably saw us as more of an underdog, and we love being in that position because we come out and surprise other teams,” Lunt said. “We had a lot of fun today, and we’re excited to play them in the future as well.”

Winston Cho covers sand volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho