Cal beach volleyball returns to Stanford for weekend doubleheader

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Cal beach volleyball heads to back to Stanford this weekend for another tournament at the Stanford Beach Volleyball Stadium. In fact, 10 of the Bears’ 24 scheduled dual matches this season will be played across the Bay. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but there is no more of that needed for this matchup.

Despite sweeping all four of their matches this weekend, the Bears surprisingly dropped out of this week’s AVCA rankings. But that should not stop them from feeling confident about this weekend.

On Saturday, the Bears will first play Pac-12 foe Utah and then arch-rival No. 14 Stanford later in the afternoon.

The Cardinal and the Bears both played at the Stanford Tournament last weekend, although they did not match up. Stanford swept all four of their matches, earning them a spot in this week’s AVCA poll.

Cal head coach Meagan Schmitt will lead her team into their first match Saturday morning against Utah. In fact, the Utah beach volleyball team will be playing its first ever match this weekend. The Utes’ beach program will look to make a mark in the Pac-12 in its debut.

“We are preparing for Utah and Stanford in a similar fashion,” Schmitt said. “Both are comprised of mostly indoor volleyball players, so we know they are going to serve and pass well and hit hard.”

There is always an extra emphasis placed on the match against the Cardinal, as the stakes always rise when the Bears take on their rival. Last season, the Bears had an impressive win against the Cardinal in a match came down to wire, with the Bears pulling out the 3-2 victory and the clinching point coming on the No. 2 court.

“There is a target on our back,” Schmitt said. “We have gotten a lot better since the match last year, but again, so has (Stanford), so we are going to focus on what allows Cal beach volleyball to be successful, as well as how we can limit (Stanford’s) strengths.”

The rest of the squad will look to capitalize on the previous success against the Cardinal, especially the No. 1 team of junior Bryce Bark and sophomore Mia Merino. Bark was part of the deciding match on the No. 2 court at last year’s dual, with her partner (then senior Kory Lamet). This year, Bark will look for another important victory with Merino, who also won her match against the Cardinal opponents, sophomores Hayley Hodson and Payton Chang, last year in three close sets.

Cal will look to capitalize off of a strong showing from its freshmen in its season debut. The Bears will look to the bottom half of their line-up to get them off to a strong start in both of their duals Saturday. The all-freshman team of Nicole Anderson and Iya Lindahl went undefeated as the No. 4 team last weekend and is looking for similar success Saturday now that the pressure of its collegiate debut is behind it.

“It is going to be a different type of team we play this weekend,” Anderson said. “We are going to continue to rep out this week and go into Stanford ready for the match.”

Overall, the Bears will face better competition from conference opponents this weekend, but they look poised to for strong matches against both teams on now-familiar courts in Palo Alto.

Charlie Griffen covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].