After taking care of its Bay Area foe, Stanford, in a very close encounter, the No. 16 Cal beach volleyball team will return home this Friday to take on Oregon. This is only the second time that the Bears are playing at the Clark Kerr Sand Courts, with their last homestand resulting in two wins over USF and Pacific.
“Coming back and playing matches on home courts is exciting,” said Cal head coach Meagan Schmitt. “The players have given impressive performances on the road but now it is time to come back and defend the home court.”
The Ducks will be playing their fourth match of the season, and this lack of experience can prove to be valuable for the Bears. Cal has played 17 matches this season and has won 10 of them. This match has all the makings of a clean sweep, but anything could happen and the Bears will have to keep their focus in order to not let the match slip away from their hands.
Oregon’s beach volleyball program is in its third year with the team comprising indoor players who have shifted to the sand. This process is something that Cal is no stranger to, as it has also fielded indoor/beach players on the courts. Senior Sarah Cole, one of the most consistent performers for the team so far this season, started out with the indoor team before shifting to beach.
“We are playing quite a few teams in the coming matches that have indoor players,” Schmitt said. “It’s good for us as we will get experience playing them and we won’t have to make wholesale changes to our gameplan and strategy.”
The Bears recruitment of beach-only players has paid dividends this season as the team has posted the highest number of wins in program history. The beach-only players such as sophomores Bryce Bark, Teya Neff and freshmen Rachel Wilson, Olivia Rodberg and Grace Campbell have been crucial members of the team and have contributed to the team’s progress.
Bark has formed a deadly partnership with senior Kory Lamet and the pair has compiled a record of 13-4 on court 2. The pair’s highlight of the season came this Tuesday against Stanford as they overcame two match points to win three consecutive points and give Cal its first overall victory in program history at the Big Spike.
A funny twist of scheduling fate has also led Cal to face Oregon at the Stanford Tournament on Saturday in Palo Alto. Facing the same opponent twice in a row will have the advantage of the opportunity to improve on any deficiencies that crept up in the first encounter. The possible disadvantage could be the lack of challenge that playing the same opponent brings.
Along with Oregon, Cal will also be taking on Saint Mary’s at the tournament, a team it defeated early in the season, 3-2. This matchup will give the Bears the opportunity to showcase their improving gameplay and increase the margin of victory. Boise State (3-0) and Arizona State (7-7) are the other two teams that Cal is slated to face, and they both will prove to be a good challenge for the Bears as they will bring something new to the table, as the team will contend with them for the first time this season.
The emphatic win over Stanford was a testament to the Bears’ mental strength and composure. Cal was having problems early on in the season when it came to finishing close matches, but that problem seems to be fading as the players look more confident on the court and are not afraid of taking risks that can lead to important points.
“The girls are hungry,” Schmitt said. “The win against Stanford lit a fire for everyone involved with the program. The players know their strengths and are ready to compete and win the coming matches.”