Bears fall early in Pac-12 championships

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At the Pac-12 championships last weekend in Tucson, Arizona, Cal beach volleyball (13-12) experienced a severe case of deja vu. Just like last season, the Bears’ season ended at the hands of the Washington Huskies.

For the second weekend in a row, Cal had to face the Arizona on the road. The Wildcats came out ready once again and cruised to a 5-0 win over the Bears for the second time in less than a week.

That loss then dropped Cal into the contender’s bracket, putting them in a favorable matchup against Washington, which it had beat two weeks prior in Berkeley, 4-1. Four of the five pairs had changed since that match, but the Huskies’ 5-0 sweep was still a surprising outcome.

The No. 5 pair of junior captain Teya Neff and freshman Bridget Gustafson was the only Cal duo to play together in both Washington matches. After beating junior Anna Crabtree and sophomore Lindsay Chalmers at the dual in Berkeley 21-7, 21-17, Neff and Gustafson could not find that winning strategy the second time around against the same Huskies pair. Neff and Gustafson fell in straight sets 21-17, 21-16.

Cal played without sophomore Mia Merino, who was out with an injury all weekend. Although she did not play in the previous match against the Huskies either, her absence still caused a shuffle in the Bears’ lineup. With that in mind, Cal cannot use her injury as an excuse for the baffling loss.

In the pairs bracket, the Bears performed well in their opening rounds. Sophomore Grace Campbell and freshman Nicole Anderson beat their Oregon opponents as expected, but that victory earned them a matchup with the No. 1 USC seniors Kelly Claes and Sara Hughes. A tough task from the start, Campbell and Anderson had no chance against a much more experienced pair and suffered a 21-5, 21-7 defeat.

Junior captain Bryce Bark and sophomore Olivia Rodberg were the other Cal pair in action at the Arizona Sand Volleyball Courts. They also played their way into the draw with a win over the Oregon duo of junior Taylor Agost and sophomore August Raskie, then faced a tough opponent in No. 2 duo senior Kamila Tan and freshman Madi Yeomans from UCLA. They fared a little better than their teammates at the top of the bracket, but ultimately yielded the same results with a 21-18, 21-13 defeat.

After a hot 8-0 start to the season, the stumble to a 13-12 finish is not what the Bears had probably expected. Finishing their 2017 just one game above the .500 mark leaves many question marks. Somewhere in the middle of the season, Cal was unable to find any consistent play at any given time.

They certainly left the desert with lost opportunities, but there were not too high of expectations to begin with. Either way, their season now ends. With many ups and downs, the Bears certainly now look toward a more consistent 2018.

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