Volleyball embarks upon 2017 season with 6 newcomers

Leslie Yang/File

In sports such as football, basketball and soccer (and other contact sports in general), when an athlete is frustrated, either with themselves or their team, they have the option of channelling that frustration into a physical altercation with an opponent. Unfortunately, the rules (and net) of volleyball prevent athletes from taking out their frustration in such a manner.

Thus, the inevitable dissatisfaction felt by the Cal women’s volleyball team after closing out the 2016 season with an eight-game losing streak cannot be placated by a slide tackle, horse collar, or hard foul. It leaves them with one option as the season approaches: redemption.

With a 2016 season that ended with a poor 9-21 record, the Bears will be looking to make some changes — and indeed they already have. The first major alteration to the program this season comes in the form of new head coach Matt McShane following the retirement of former head coach Rich Feller. McShane takes the reigns after having served as associate head coach last season and serving as an assistant from 2005-09 — which is all to say that he is quite familiar with both the program and the Pac-12, a Pac-12 that is looking particularly challenging this year.

While the Bears don’t face a conference opponent until Sept. 20 in the form of Stanford, they’ll meet difficulty once they get there. Five Pac-12 teams have been ranked in the top 25 in the nation, and Cal will face massive challenges when it comes to going up against these Goliaths. The Bears will face an uphill battle, then, when it comes to being the proverbial David.

Enter change number two: five incoming freshmen and sophomore transfer Emma Smith, six additions which give Cal the 15th-best recruiting class in the nation. They have big shoes to fill after the graduation of libero Maddy Kerr, setter Alyssa Jensen and middle blocker Jenelle Jordan, all of whom were integral parts of the program.

But this new class has a lot to offer. Freshman outside hitter Mima Mirkovic was a member of the U.S. Youth National Team and an Under Armour Third Team All-American. She’s joined by middle blocker Preslie Anderson, who was ranked the No. 38 senior ace by the PrepVolleyball website. Smith, a defensive specialist during her time at Hawaii, showed skill at Hawaii where she recorded 78 digs in 66 sets.

Those newcomers are joining a group of solid veterans as well, chiefly senior outside hitter Christine Alftin who lead the Bears last season in kills, kill average, total attacks and aces. Along with Alftin is sophomore outside hitter Bailee Huizenga, who started all 30 matches in 2016. McShane will likely be relying heavily on those two to lead the team in the absence of stars from last year’s squad like Kerr.

McShane will have some more new help when it comes to molding a new playing style. He’s brought on Spencer McLachlin as assistant coach and Cayley Thurlby as director of operations. In 2016, McLachlin worked as a volunteer assistant coach for the UCLA men’s team — a team that went to the NCAA tournament. The addition of these two to the coaching staff signals an attempt to breath some life into the program, which has suffered from losing records every season since 2014.

For the first three and a half weeks, the Bears will only face nonconference opponents, which should allow them to find their groove and practice various tactics before coming up against stringent competition. With lower-level competition such as Seattle and Louisiana at Lafayette on the docket, Cal should be able to snap the losing streak that looms from last year — after all, brawling isn’t an option.

Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]