Cal volleyball looks to bounce back against Washington State, No. 11 Washington

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It’s been a long road trip home for the Cal volleyball team (11-8, 2-6), which lost all four of its away matches the past two weeks. Finally returning to play in their own Haas Pavilion, the Bears will face Washington St. (13-7, 2-6) for their Friday match and will play a second home match Sunday against No. 11 Washington (15-4, 5-3).

Both the Cougars and Huskies are known for their blocking and will put up strong fronts against the Bears’ offense. The Cougars rank sixth in the NCAA for blocks per set, with 3.1 blocks/set. The Huskies are just above, ranking third in the nation with 3.22 blocks/set.

“Washington St. and Washington … are big (and) very physical,” said Cal head coach Matt McShane. “We need to make sure we don’t try to attack straight at them because they are large. It’s hard to hit over them.”

The Bears are prepared to face their taller opponents, though. Since January, the players have been working on using a block to their advantage. With practice on hitting the edges of the block, the Bears are ready to outsmart the Washingtonians.

Washington St. has a similar record to Cal, both having won two conference matches. Friday’s match is the fight for a third conference win for both teams. The match, along with Sunday’s game, also serves as Cal’s “Dig Pink” fundraiser, in which proceeds from the night go to benefit breast cancer research.

The match against Washington on Sunday will give the Bears another opportunity to test their strength against a top-tier Pac-12 team. The Huskies have only lost four matches, two of which were pushed to a tiebreaker fifth set. Washington has proven it doesn’t fall to its opponents easily, and, like the Bears, the Huskies are certainly reviewing what they must capitalize on to keep their strong record.

“Once you get into Pac-12, all the matches are videoed, so our staff is … watching video of Washington and Washington St., (and) everybody is doing the same for us, so there’s almost no surprises,” McShane said. “Antzela (Dempi) and Carmen (Annevelink) … didn’t have big years last year, so they were a bit of a surprise, (but) now everybody knows about them, so they’re designing defenses to stop (them).”

As Washington St. and Washington prepare to come to Berkeley to fight the Bears, who have only lost one home match, Cal coaches are still unsure of what Friday and Sunday’s lineups will look like. With three players having played the libero position in a span of seven matches, the Bears have several potential candidates for the position going into the weekend but no one set in stone.

In addition to watching film and working on offensive strategies, McShane led the team to discuss individual and team expectations in preparation for the weekend and remaining season matches.

“Each person needs to hold everyone else accountable in being prepared,” McShane said. “They have to come in and be prepared to work on the things that will minimize their mistakes and do the things that they’re better at. (They have to) try and forget about all the other things that are going on in their life.”

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