With the deciding fourth set deadlocked at 20-all, Stanford’s senior setter Madi Bugg set up back-to-back kills to give the Cardinal the two-point lead. After calling a timeout, Cal responded with a kill by senior opposite hitter Lillian Schonewise to cut the deficit to one.
Schonewise’s kill, however, was for not after the Cardinal received Cal’s serve in-system to set up a kill for freshman outside hitter Hayley Hodson. The Cardinal followed up Hodson’s kill with a block from its frontline and closed out the match two possessions later on another kill.
Despite having to spend the day before Thanksgiving on the road, Cal (9-21, 3-16 Pac-12) gave No. 6 Stanford (21-6, 15-4) all it could handle in the Bears’ second-to-last match of the season. Cal remained competitive at Maples Pavilion but fell in four sets, 25-22, 18-25, 25-13, 25-23.
“I think we played solid volleyball,” said Cal volleyball coach Rich Feller. “We were playing a really good team game, and I think our execution was great. We were getting touches on the block, making some defensive plays and hitting smart.”
With the odds stacked against them, the Bears exchanged blows with the Cardinal until the Bears took a three-point lead, 12-9, off a kill by Schonewise, who finished with nine kills in the first set. After calling a timeout, Stanford came roaring back with a 3-0 run of its own, ignited by a kill from redshirt sophomore middle blocker Merete Lutz.
The two teams went back and forth until the Cardinal took a commanding three-point lead late in the first set, 23-20. Despite consecutive kills by Schonewise to cut the deficit to one, Hodson put the set to rest on back-to-back kills of her own.
“(Schonewise) is an exceptional athlete,” Feller said. “She’s got a quick arm, a quick first step, and she can see the court. If you get her anything in the right area, which Alyssa (Jensen) did very well, she can get a kill. And it doesn’t matter if the other team knows it’s coming.”
After coming so close to winning the first set, Cal appeared sluggish to start the second. The team fell behind early with eight of Stanford’s first 10 points coming off kills. The Bears, however, went on a run of their own and knotted up the count at 12-all with a strong contribution from sophomore outside hitter Christine Alftin, who had two kills during the run and 16 on the match. After taking the lead on a service error, 13-12, Cal never looked back and went on to score five straight points.
Stanford chipped away at the lead but never got closer than four points. It went on to lose the second set by a seven-point margin, 25-18.
With the match tied at one set apiece, the Cardinal flipped the script and dominated the third set. After going behind, 4-2, Stanford scored the next six points — four of them coming off kills. The Cardinal remained firmly in control and won the set comfortably, 25-13, to take the one-set lead.
The fourth set proceeded much like the first, with the same result. Neither Cal nor Stanford was able to get an advantage early on, but the Cardinal executed better at the end for its 15th conference victory.
“We didn’t pass very well,” Feller said. “Our serve-receive fell apart, and there were a lot of mistakes. We missed a couple serves, which allowed them to get right back into their offense. It was some breakdowns we’ve seen before, but it happened after we got that win in the second. We couldn’t get our momentum back until game four.”
Winston Cho covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @winstonscho