Cal volleyball falls to Arizona in straight sets on the road

Yukun Zhang/File

Your elementary school teacher may have offered a device to help you remember how many s’s are in dessert vs. desert — a desert you only want to cross through once, while you’d go back for seconds of dessert. This weekend, Cal volleyball crossed through the Arizona desert and would not be interested in going back. The Bears fell to the Wildcats on Friday in straight sets, never scoring more than 16 points.

The last time Cal (13-10, 4-8) saw Arizona was at home where the Bears won 3-2. The Bears were able to pull ahead particularly because of their strong defense, notably their 14 blocks. The latest match against Arizona, though, lacked that — Cal’s one block, by freshman Preslie Anderson, was no match for Arizona’s big hitters.

Cal found itself on the wrong side of recent history, allowing Arizona to average a .412 hitting percentage, while only recording a measly .025. The stats set records on both sides of the spectrum — the Wildcats’ .412 marked a Pac-12 high since 2011 while the Bears’ .025 was the lowest for an Arizona opponent since 2013.

“It was a combination of things,” said Cal head coach Matt McShane. “If you ask the players, the hitters would say they need to be better. The setters would say they needed to have set better. The coaches would’ve said they needed to have coached better. It was a team loss.”

The Bears’ weak performance, though, wasn’t completely unforeseeable. With co-captains and starters Mackenzie Albrecht and Christine Alftin injured, the team struggled finding setter-hitter connections to put the ball away.

McShane introduced a new face to the court during the second and third sets against Arizona. Freshman had her career debut as she and fellow freshman setter Isabel Potter ran a 6-2 offense. Junior Amanda Kirtley made her first appearance as libero, replacing sophomore Emma Smith. The variations to the lineup were not enough for Cal to come out on top of the Wildcats.

“The team lacked the enthusiasm they needed,” McShane said.

Despite the bitterness of Friday’s loss for Cal, the Bears were able to pull off a 3-1 win Sunday against Arizona State, which still remains winless in the conference. Cal managed to reform its mistakes from Friday, hitting a much more respectable .286 while shutting the Sun Devils down with 12 blocks.

Blocking was a primary focus of practice this week, and it clearly paid off in the match against Arizona State. Cal rarely sees as many as 12 blocks in a match, making the Bears’ performance commendable. McShane added that assistant coach Spencer McLachlin played an important role in the Bears’ successful blocking match, as he worked with the blockers so they’d better line up with the Sun Devils’ hitters at the net.

The Bears took the first and last sets with ease, keeping Arizona State under 15 in both sets. The middle two sets were closer, and both ended with the teams only three points from each other — one ending in a Sun Devil win.

While the Bears quite literally will not be back through the desert another time, as the weekend matches marked the start of the final round of conference play, their trip did include one win — something always notable for Cal, which has already surpassed the team’s past seasons’ performance.
Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]