Cal volleyball continues rough stretch with loss against No. 7 Washington

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Cal women’s volleyball entered its matchup against No. 7 Washington, its third top 25 ranked opponent in a row, as an underdog and yet again found itself unable to pull off the elusive upset. The Bears fell in four sets to the Huskies, tightly contesting the first two until being subdued in the final two sets. With the loss, Cal now holds a 6-7 record, marking the first time the Bears have fallen below 0.500 this season. More importantly, the Bears still have yet to record a win against a conference opponent.

In the first set, Cal jumped out to a 4-2 lead, but Washington quickly erased the Bears’ early advantage. The Huskies seized control of the first set with an 11-4 run, giving them a five-point lead in the set. Strong hitting from redshirt sophomore Ashten Smith-Gooden and freshman Maddie Haynes kept the Bears in the game, and timely serves from junior Jessica Gaffney helped Cal tie it up 20-20. Ultimately, however, the Bears’ comeback fell short and Washington earned the 1-0 lead.

Cal put together one of its strongest stretches of the season in the second set, edging out the Huskies 27-25 to tie up the match 1-1. As they did against Stanford, the Bears demonstrated their ability to string together sequences of high-quality play against an elite team. Cal recorded 16 kills in the second set, its highest total of the match and three more than Washington’s 13. The Bears also out-blocked the Huskies 4-2 in the second set. But, this side of Cal was fleeting.

“I think just sustaining that level of play — we haven’t had to do that,” said head coach Rich Feller. “We haven’t been able to do that.”

With a narrow victory in the second set, the Bears placed themselves firmly in contention for the match heading into the third. Cal, however, found itself overwhelmed quickly, and the third set ended shortly after it began. The game featured no lead changes — the Huskies led the entire time, by as many as 18 points with the score at 23-5. The Bears managed to produce 12 points on an inefficient hitting percentage, conceding the game 25-12 and the lead 2-1.

Cal’s performance hit its nadir in the third set, but the Bears managed to make the fourth set competitive. Smith-Gooden, Cal’s top offensive performer for the match with 14 kills on a .481 hitting percentage, continued to keep her team afloat with her contributions in the fourth game. With an assist from sophomore Mackenzie Albrecht, Smith-Gooden recorded a kill that bridged the deficit to two points: 19-17. Untimely errors late in the set ultimately spelled the team’s demise, and the Huskies clinched the victory 3-1 with a 25-19 fourth set.

The Bears’ dry spell against Pac-12 opponents seems like cause for concern, but it’s not surprising. Cal is heavily reliant on some of its new additions, including Haynes and freshman hitter Bailee Huizenga, who are still getting adjusted to the team and the level of competition. The problem for the Bears is that they’re in a historically loaded conference this season and as the year progresses, their opponents will have more time to prepare for them.

Kapil Kashyap covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]