Cal volleyball falls on road to Washington State, Washington

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Junior setter Alyssa Jensen squared her shoulders, tossed the ball with a feathery touch and smacked it to the other side of the court. Up four points in the second set, 20-16, Washington State received the serve in-system and got the ball to junior setter Haley MacDonald. She then set up junior outside hitter Kyra Holt for the kill.

Holt would serve the ball over the next four possessions until the Cougars put the set away. The Bears lost the final three points on three consecutive errors by senior middle blocker Lara Vukasovic — her final shot forced out by the Washington State block.

In a matchup between two of the worst teams in the Pac-12, Washington State (15-13, 4-12 Pac-12) snapped Cal’s 12-match winning streak at Pullman, Washington, in a three-set victory. Washington (24-2, 14-2) kept the rout going two days later at Alaska Airlines Arena by easily dispatching Cal (9-18, 3-13), 25-17, 25-18, 25-20.

“I think it was just one of those things in sports where we were not as up and ready to play as they were,” said Cal volleyball coach Rich Feller. “It wasn’t any conscious thing. It didn’t come to us, and we didn’t really follow the game plan.”

Washington State and Cal had three conference victories apiece coming into their Friday-night tipoff. The Bears beat the Cougars earlier this season at Haas Pavilion but were not as fortunate on the road.

Down two late in the first set, Feller called a timeout and set up a play for redshirt senior middle blocker Lillian Schonewise. After Schonewise hammered a kill to cut the deficit to one, Washington State’s freshman outside hitter McKenna Woodford responded with a kill herself. The first set ended in a disappointing fashion two plays later on a Cal error. Depleted, the Bears were much less competitive in the second set and even worse in the third.

Washington State managed a .305 hitting percentage while limiting Cal to .211. The Cougars outplayed the Bears in nearly every facet of the match, totaling more blocks, service aces and assists while recording fewer errors. Schonewise was again on fire, converting more than half of her shots while contributing 13 kills, with no other Bear recording double-digit kills. Woodford, meanwhile, stuffed the stat sheet with 14 kills, three assists, two blocks and five digs.

“We didn’t play defense the way we wanted to,” Feller said. “A couple of things we worked on, we weren’t really able to execute, whether it was concentration or a critical mistake. We didn’t execute what we were hoping to do.”

Washington proved to be an even tougher opponent than its cross-state rival. Boasting a 29-match winning streak against Pac-12 opponents at home, the cards were stacked against Cal. And if the Bears learned anything in their match against the Huskies, it was that the house always wins.

After a mediocre offensive showing against the Cougars, Cal went on to hit the highest percentage of any Washington opponent all season. The Huskies came into the match ranked second in the country in opponent-hitting percentage at .133 and hadn’t let any of their opponents hit above .300 for the entire season. The Bears, however, ended the match hitting .320 as a team.

A large part of Cal’s high-powered offense Sunday was due to sophomore opposite hitter Antzela Dempi. She, along with Schonewise, combined for more than half of the team’s kills, with 22. But that didn’t stop Washington from winning each set by at least five points and hitting .422 as a team.

“Against Washington, I think we played exceptionally well,” Feller said. “We lost in three, but I felt like we responded well. Our offense was really good. Our defense was really good, too. But our blocking didn’t slow them down. They have good hitters at every single position and ended up being in-system a lot.”

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