With the crowd sitting on fold-out chairs and blaring music on a portable speaker as they were protected from the sun by the shade of the Clark Kerr Campus sand courts’ trees, the No. 4 pair of freshmen Mackenzie Feldman and Sammy Furlan leaned forward with their hands on their knees with the match on the line, down 15-14. Then, with Haim’s “The Wire” in the background, Feldman and Furlan drilled back-to-back dagger kills to take the lead after trailing almost the entire third set. And capitalizing on their ace, the Bears forced an error to take the come-from-behind win from the Santa Clara duo.
In Cal’s second home match of the season against St. Mary’s (4-11) and Santa Clara (6-5), the Bears (7-12) were able to beat out the Gaels, 4-1, in a hard-fought victory with four of the five matches going to three sets. Cal then followed it up with another victory, 4-1, against the Broncos.
Despite what the final score may indicate, Cal’s individual pairs all went down to the wire against against their Gaels opponents. On court No. 1, Feldman and Furlan dropped their first set, 21-16, only to take the second and third sets, 21-13 and 15-11. The Bears’ No. 3 pair of senior Inanna Eshoo and freshman Katie Regalia similarly had trouble putting away its opponents, winning the first set, 21-15, but dropping the second, 21-16. And after trailing early and late in the tiebreaker in the third set, Eshoo and Regalia were able to capitalize on an ace opportunity to put away the match at 18-16.
The Gaels’ No. 2 pair was the only duo able to take a point from the Bears in the first match. Cal’s No. 2 pair of freshmen Bryce Bark and Emily Shults won the first set 17-21, only to lose the following set by a hefty margin of 21-11. The third set could have gone either way for either team, but the Gaels pulled through with the victory, 15-13, for their only point of the day.
The match against Santa Clara followed much of the same storyline as the one against St. Mary’s — with edge-of-seat matches leading to narrow victories for the Bears. Again, Feldman and Furlan dropped their first set but were able to get the 21-17 second-set victory, culminating in a narrow, 17-15 win.
“We were being conscious of our pulling defense because they kept getting us on those shorts and those deeps, but our offense, too,” Feldman said. “Instead of going deep, our coach at the very end told us to work the cutty, like the short, because it was working, so we were focused on that.”
The Broncos were just able to steal one from the Bears, with their No. 3 pair narrowly defeating Eshoo and Regalia in three sets, 21-16, 17-21 and 15-9. The two teams traded blows all match long until the third set, when the Broncos steamrolled Cal to start the set. Santa Clara was able to snag six of the first seven points, resulting in a disappointing loss for the Cal duo.
The Bears and Broncos played out the final match despite having already technically won. The No. 1 pair of junior Sarah Cole and sophomore Emily Lunt steamrolled its competition to begin the match, winning the first set 21-5. The Broncos, however, closed the gap by taking the second set, 21-19, but lost the third, 15-10.
“I’m so proud of the way they competed,” said associate head coach Meagan Schmitt. “They came out and faced an opponent they knew was really strong, St. Mary’s, and played the way they wanted to play. And right after that, they beat an opponent that beat us a few weeks ago. It just shows us that we are improving and we are getting better.”
Winston Cho covers sand volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho