Cal volleyball struggles against Utah, Colorado

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It’s early November, and with less than three weeks left in the season, the Cal volleyball team is a near certainty not to make the NCAA tournament. This weekend put the nail in the coffin.

The Bears lost to both Utah and Colorado on the road in straight sets to push their record to 9-15 (3-11 Pac-12). For a Cal team without legitimate postseason aspirations, a loss doesn’t tangibly affect it. But what was concerning about the Bears’ performance this weekend was the lack of effort the team put forth after weeks of building progress.
“I just thought that we didn’t play up to our potential,” said Cal head coach Rich Feller. “I’m kind of disappointed, as is the team, that we didn’t put out a little better effort.”

On Friday, Cal faced off against No.19 Utah (17-8, 8-6 Pac-12) for the second time this season. The Bears came into the match looking for redemption but wound up with the same result as the first time they played the Utes: a three-set loss. Utah took advantage of Cal’s inability to string together multiple good plays and dispatched the Bears 25-18, 25-21, 25-20 with well-executed passing.

Cal’s sloppy play is evident from the fact that it committed 22 errors, nine more than the Utes. On the defensive side, the Bears didn’t do enough to disrupt Utah’s flow and allowed their host Utes to record a hitting percentage of 0.293. While focusing on the Bears’ flaws is constructive, it ignores Utah’s stellar play.

“They were in system a lot, which was partly because I don’t know that we served tough enough,” Feller said. “But they pass really well, they were in system and both of (Utah and Colorado) have really good offenses.”

In Cal’s matchup against Colorado (13-11, 5-9 Pac-12) on Sunday, the Buffaloes were the ones seeking redemption. The Bears beat Colorado 3-1 less than a month ago, but this weekend, the Buffaloes exacted revenge. The loss served as a reminder that as the Bears made steady progress over the course of the season, so did every other team in the Pac-12.

“I think both of those teams have also improved their game, and they got better than we did,” Feller said.

Colorado dominated Cal offensively, posting a hitting percentage of 0.314, exactly double Cal’s 0.157 mark. The Bears’ struggles were compounded by the fact that they committed 21 errors, more than twice the Buffaloes’ 10. Cal’s offense was kept afloat by the efforts of junior Christine Alftin, who amassed 11 kills, and senior middle blocker Jenelle Jordan, who recorded seven kills on an efficient 0.375 hitting percentage.

The Bears started their match against Colorado sluggishly, losing the first set 25-15. Cal responded and made the next two sets more competitive but still lost 25-19 in the last two. The loss was demoralizing for a team already struggling to stay motivated without the possibility of NCAAs lingering.

“Probably the biggest challenge right now is: If you don’t have a prize at the end of the season, what are you playing for?” Feller said. “I think for us, we need to play for the future and understand you have to put good matches together in November because at some point, you hope to be playing in December.”

With six matches remaining, the Bears will need to regroup quickly if they hope to disrupt the current hierarchy in the Pac-12. Cal may not have a chance at becoming a postseason contender this season, but it can still challenge its remaining opponents and make their lives uncomfortable.

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