The Cal volleyball squad huddled together after a 25-14 first-set pounding by Arizona State. Cal head coach Rich Feller was desperate, searching for any sign of life in his team.
Disturbed by their lackadaisical performance to start the match, he handed the Bears a lineup card and told them to give him six players who wanted to compete. His players got the message.
The tables flipped on the Sun Devils over the course of the next three sets. The Bears would take complete control, riding coach Feller’s call to action to a 14-25, 25-21, 25-19, 25-22 victory on their home floor — their first win against a ranked opponent on the season.
Falling to Stanford in three sets the day prior, No. 14 Arizona State (17-6, 6-6 Pac-12) came out shooting against Cal (9-14, 3-9 Pac-12). After trading points to start the match, the Sun Devils slowly started to pull away on the back of their offense. The lead ballooned to as much as 12 points late in the first set after a service error by Cal senior outside hitter Nikki Gombar and a service ace by Arizona State sophomore libero Halle Harker. The Bears’ struggle to get a clean look at the ball was only exacerbated by their multiple service errors in the first set.
It was, however, Cal’s serving that got the squad back in the match. Despite their 11 service errors, the Bears continued to serve hard and eventually took the Sun Devils out of their offense. They only finished with two service aces, but their aggressive serving made it difficult for Arizona State to get a consistent offensive flow and string together multiple points in a row, like they did the first set.
While the Sun Devils were hard pressed to score points in the last three sets, Cal redshirt senior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise was scoring points in bunches. Schonewise is hitting .454 on 3.80 kills per set in the past seven matches, and she continued her hot streak against Arizona State, finishing with 18 kills and converting at a .469 clip.
Schonewise’s contributions proved instrumental in winning on Thursday night, but three other Bears also finished with more than 10 kills. Cal finished with 54 kills in the match and 157 total attacks — both more than Arizona State.
The match against No. 19 Arizona (15-9, 5-7 Pac-12), however, was not as kind as the Arizona State game. The Wildcats also fell to the Cardinal before facing Cal but were coming off a day of rest, unlike the Sun Devils.
Although the Bears got off to a better start this time around, they similarly gave up in the first set, putting themselves in an early 1-0 hole. The match was knotted up at 19-all late in the first set, but attack errors continued to plague Cal. Three of Arizona’s last five points in the set came off attack errors by freshman outside hitter Belen Castillo, forced by the Wildcat block.
The Bears didn’t fare any better in the second set. They found themselves facing an early 5-0 deficit and, shortly after, a 10-1 deficit. Although Cal got back within three points at 16-13, the Wildcats went on another run and put the set away.
But Cal found itself playing much better in the third set. It raced out to a 5-0 lead when the Wildcats responded by scoring six unanswered points. And after the Bears went on another five-point scoring streak, Arizona went on to shave a couple points off Cal’s lead by scoring five consecutive points once again to get within three at 19-16. After trading points for a few possessions, the Bears were able to force a fourth set, where they lost the match, 25-16.
Winston Cho covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho