Cal volleyball prepares for No. 16 Utah following loss to Stanford

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Volleyball may not be the first sport thought of when the deep-rooted Cal vs. Stanford rivalry comes to mind. Yet on Wednesday night, the Cal women’s volleyball team did its best to take down the tree. The Bears fell short, though, as they lost in Palo Alto 3-0 to continue a two-game losing streak after nine straight wins.

The Bears lost in a close first set, 20-25. In the following two sets, they were unable to even match that figure, falling to the Cardinal 14-25 and 15-25. During the first set, Cal nearly equaled Stanford with regard to the number of kills, scoring 14 points through attack kills during the first set, while the Cardinal scored 15.

“We did very well tonight,” said Cal head coach Matt McShane after the match. “.220 is the number we want to be, and we hit .235. The problem was Stanford hit (about) .550. They were incredibly good.”

Indeed, the Cardinal had a strong hitting game. They hit .609 in the second set, a statistic rarely reached in the world of volleyball. 6-foot-6-inch Stanford sophomore Kathryn Plummer led her team with 17 kills overall and a kill percentage of .519.

“They’re tall,” McShane said. “They have really good hitter. These are probably the best hitters we have played against so far this year.”

The Bears were only able to successfully block the Cardinal once throughout the match. Stanford, though, had nine total blocks. Cal’s Carmen Annevelink, a junior, and freshman Preslie Anderson had strong hitting Wednesday night, as both only had one error and maintained a kill percentage at or above .400.

In order for Cal to have counter Stanford’s tough offense, it needed to have served tougher, but the team wasn’t quite up to the task in a facet of the game it’s struggled with throughout the season.

As the Bears now prepare to play an away match at No. 16 Utah (9-2, 0-0) on Sunday, learning from their experience at Stanford, the next few practices will be focused on serving and blocking.

“All the teams that we play now all rank in the top 40 or 50,” McShane said. “Some, like Stanford, are in the top 10. They’re No. 4. And Utah is 16. If we can serve tough against Utah, we will do very well.”

The Utes are scheduled to play their first Pac-12 game Friday night against No. 25 Colorado (10-1, 0-0). The Utes are coming off of a 20-12 season and have been a strong program for quite a while now, making a few appearances in the second round of the NCAA tournament over the past few years.

They lost to No. 14 Kentucky in August and beat No. 15 San Diego in a tight five-set match earlier this month. With six of their nine wins coming in straight sets, they don’t waste time dealing with inferior opponents, so Cal will need to have their play in order.

The Bears beat the Utes in 2015 but lost both matches when the teams faced each other during the 2016 season. As they prepare for Sunday’s match, the Bears must be ready for the Utes’ strong hitting, like Stanford’s. Cumulatively this season, Utah has built up a .302 hitting percentage, while the Bears are currently averaging .269. Utah’s overall season hitting percentage is higher than that any of the Bears’ previous opponents this season.

A victory for the Bears this weekend would surely boost the team’s morale and get them back on a winning path. But another loss could make fans question if the Bears will truly end this season better than their past several ones after their promising beginning.

Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]