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No. 14 Cal beach volleyball wraps up strong 2016 season

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ZAINAB ALI | FILE

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MAY 08, 2016

The Cal beach volleyball program began 2014 with many indoor players transitioning to the beach game. In the program’s first two seasons, the Bears put up disappointing losing records. But improvement is a key aspect of sports, and Cal’s 2016 season was a story of massive improvement.

The team posted a winning record, going 16-9 in the regular season and achieving a program-high national ranking of No.14. Other highlights included its first victory over archrivals Stanford in the Big Spike, as well as a seven-game winning streak in April. All these achievements are even more impressive considering this was head coach Meagan Schmitt’s first year at the helm. Schmitt had been a student-athlete for Cal and had played on the indoor team. Her previous coaching stint was at Loyola Marymount where she served as an assistant coach.

“It is a huge honor to be coaching this team. Rich (Feller) is still my mentor and he still has a large impact on the program,” Schmitt said. “While I was the coach, the girls did a great job of being coachable and taking feedback really well and turning it into something great. They did a phenomenal job this season and I’m excited to be working with them next season.”

The standout pair this season was senior Kory Lamet and sophomore Bryce Bark. Both the players formed a good pair as their playing styles were very compatible and allowed for flexibility in game strategy as well. Lamet, who had previously played for the Cal women’s soccer team, was the defensive specialist and utilized her athleticism to dig the opponent’s returns as well as chip in with spikes. Bark served brilliantly throughout the season and also provided the offensive firepower. Her height allowed her to deliver devastating spikes from the net and also block opponents’ spikes. The duo posted a regular season record of 18-7 on Court 2. Their defining moment came in the match against Stanford where they clinched the overall victory on extra points in the third set.

The pair of senior Sarah Cole and freshman Mia Merino were also very consistent performers for the Bears this season. Cole’s blocking ability, along with Merino’s digs and passing ability allowed the duo to compile a 14-9 record on Court 1. The duo also clinched an all-important match in the Pac-12 Championships, outlasting Arizona State in a thrilling match that went into three sets.

Cole, Lamet and senior Ashley Johnson are graduating this semester and will leave a void in the team that will be hard to fill. Cal, however, has many underclassmen who will relish the opportunity to become cornerstones of the program.

“Our graduating seniors left a huge impact on the program,” Schmitt said. “While we will have great recruits coming in, we will also rely on our young players to fill that role and I’m sure they will be able to do it. The seniors were great role models for the team and everybody on the team got to learn a lot from them.”

For the 2015 season, Cal had recruited a beach-only class and continued with the same policy this year. The improvement in the team’s fortunes is evidence that this recruiting strategy is paying dividends.

The indoor game and the beach game are different in many aspects, especially in court coverage, as it is harder to move on the sand and the number of players playing at one time is fewer than that in indoor volleyball. Adapting from indoor to beach is a tough job and while Cole was able to successfully do that, she was assisted this year by the beach-only recruits from 2015 and 2016. This allowed Schmitt to focus more on in-game strategization as opposed to adaptation techniques from indoor to beach. On average, of Cal’s ten players that played in a match, eight players were either freshmen or sophomores from the beach-only recruiting classes.

“Having beach-specific recruits gives us great knowledge and experience to our program,” Schmitt said. “It also allows us to train full time in the off-season rather than having that dual-sport athlete schedule conflict. Having beach-only recruits has taken this program to the next level and I am really excited for the next recruiting class to come in and make an immediate impact.”

Overall, Cal had a very impressive season, in spite of an underwhelming postseason in the Pac-12 Championships. The underclassmen stepped up for the team and will improve as players in the coming years. With these talented players, the program’s future looks very bright.

“I think this season was a success,” Schmitt said. “We got a lot better this year and our record is evidence of that. The team is capable of taking this program to the next level. That is where offseason training and identifying areas of improvement is crucial. By and large, this season was a success, but it’s only a stepping stone for the greater progress that we have charted out.”

Devang Prasad covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @DevangPrasad.
LAST UPDATED

MAY 08, 2016


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