Cal beach volleyball can’t continue winning ways against rival Cardinal

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After pulling off victories in several close matches at the beginning of the season, Cal beach volleyball (10-7) has lost its winning touch of late. The much anticipated match against rival Stanford resulted in another 3-2 score, but unlike last season and earlier this season, it was a loss for the Bears.

Despite the team’s recent losses to Saint Mary’s and San Jose State, Cal has remained optimistic and for good reason. The Bears had taken down the Cardinal in their last two meetings, establishing a sense of confidence among the members on the roster.

The rivalry match is always of importance to the Bears, and it showed. Immediately after its match over the weekend, Cal had its eyes on Stanford. Perhaps with more days to prepare, the Bears could have yielded different results. But with a two-and-a-half day turn around, Cal could not get itself out of its current losing streak.

The bottom half of the lineup, which had great success against the Cardinal its last time out, battled hard again Tuesday. No. 5 pair of junior Teya Neff and freshman Bridget Gustafson took care of business with a third set comeback, 17-21, 21-14, 16-14.

Up-and-down score lines were a major trend on the day. Across all courts, both teams had extended scoring runs. That is an unusual occurrence for beach volleyball, as is it hard to score many consecutive points in a row against quality competition.

Freshmen Nicole Anderson and Iya Lindahl played an exciting back-and-forth match that in the end went Stanford’s way. Anderson and Lindahl fended off six match points in the second set against Cardinal junior Catherine Raquel and freshman Shannon Richardson. But after rallying to tie that second set at 20-20, they fell short, giving the 23-21, 26-24 victory to Stanford.

Sophomores Grace Campbell and Olivia Rodberg had an impressive comeback on court three. Their match was the last to finish on the day, so while Stanford had already clinched the dual at that point, Campbell and Rodberg’s 16-14 third set triumph was a bittersweet end for the Bears.

It was the top two pairs for Cal that ultimately decided the match. On the No. 1 court, Stanford’s duo of freshmen Jenna Gray and Kathryn Plummer, 21-19, 21-12 beat Cal junior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Mia Merino. At the same time on the No. 2 court, junior Bryce Bark and freshman Camille Stepanof fared no better, falling 22-20, 21-12.

Cal has led the way in the recruitment of beach-only players which has given it an advantage in its matches to this point, but Stanford now appears to be closing the gap. As Stanford begins to recruit more athletes to play exclusively on the sand, it will pose a greater threat to the Bears and other teams across the country. But one thing is for sure — as both programs continue to establish themselves and grow, it will only make for more competitive and entertaining matches in years to come.

Considering both squads’ standings in the conference, it would not be surprising to see them meet up again at the Pac-12 championships in Tucson, Arizona, at the end of the month. But in the meantime, Cal will face key preparations in matches against fellow conference opponents this weekend.

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