Cal beach volleyball falls to St. Mary’s, 3-2

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When you fall behind 2-0 in beach volleyball, every subsequent move on the court then puts you one step closer to either pulling off a miraculous comeback or handing your opponent the match. The Cal beach volleyball team found itself in this predicament against St. Mary’s on Wednesday afternoon in Moraga. Even with a valiant comeback effort, the match was decided on the last court of the day, in which the Gaels walked away with a 3-2 win.

The steady No. 5 pair of freshman Bridget Gustafson and junior captain Teya Neff, who had grown accustomed to starting off strong for their team, unexpectedly fell in three tight sets. After dropping the first set 21-15, Gustafson and Neff bounced back in the second, 21-11. The duo jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the third but dropped seven consecutive points and could not come back from the deficit.

St. Mary’s then took a 2-0 lead after Cal freshman Camille Stepanof and junior Bryce Bark lost on the No. 2 court. It was a close scoreline, 21-16, 22-20, marking the second time they have lost to the Gael pair of redshirt freshman Sarah Chase and sophomore Emily Bible.

Down a daunting two games early on, Cal faced a very uphill climb to have any chance of winning. Fortunately for the Bears, key freshmen Nicole Anderson and Iya Lindahl continued their hot streak and started the comeback trail cruising in straight sets, 21-19, 21-19 to improve upon their team-best record.

Now within striking distance for a comeback, the No. 1 and No. 3 pairs then took the court with the pressure and expectations of being Cal’s best shot to win.

No. 3 sophomores Grace Campbell and Olivia Rodberg continued their excellent play, as a quick 21-12 first set gave them the confidence to close out their match as the second set began.

But on the No. 1 court, junior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Mia Merino fell behind early. They dropped the first 21-11 and fared no better in a 21-9 second set.

Before Campbell and Rodberg even completed, the match had been decided. Even though they held a lead in their second set and ultimately won it 21-8, Cal’s improbable chance of winning was erased.

The Bears will now have a quick turnaround to look for success Friday against San José State, which Cal defeated 4-1 in Berkeley on March 24. The Spartans will be led by the No. 5 pair of junior Summer Avery and freshman Kaitlynn Zdroik, who carry an impressive 7-1 record into the dual. One of those wins came against Gustafson and Neff in their last match against the Bears.

It was an otherwise straightforward match for Cal, as that was the only point it dropped, and the Bears went on to sweep all remaining sets on courts 1-4. With rainy conditions in the forecast again for this match, the Bears can look to the experience gained from the previous match.

Cal head coach Meagan Schmitt and her team are well prepared for high performance in the rain, as their off-season was full of it. Against a team they have already beaten and on their home courts, the Bears have all the pieces set for victory.

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