Cal volleyball can’t overcome injuries, loses in straight sets to Oregon, Oregon State

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Needing to overcome some brutal injuries in order to avenge two losses from earlier in the season, Cal volleyball was hoping that returning to Haas Pavilion would be enough. Against No. 9 Oregon and Oregon State, it wasn’t. Accordingly, this weekend the team suffered another pair of straight-set losses to the teams from the Beaver State.

“We’ve had some injuries, we’re trying to create some things around the injuries, so we (could) force Oregon and Oregon State to make errors,” said Cal head coach Matt McShane. “We were unsuccessful.”

No. 16 Oregon made things fairly ugly in its 3-0 victory, with even more lopsided set scores than the teams’ previous matchup, which took place in Eugene. That earlier Cal loss also went in three straight sets, but each was fairly close, with an identical 25-19 score. This time around, the Bears only managed to keep it that close in one set (25-18, 25-16, 25-19).

Cal has had to make tough schematic adjustments in all of its games recently, needing to find a replacement libero without a clear answer. Senior Christine Alftin, perhaps the Bears’ best player, took that spot in both of Cal’s games this weekend for only the second and third times this season. She can no doubt fill in for that role, but it does limit the impact she can usually have on the game in other areas, now being relegated to a mostly defensive role.

Senior Antzela Dempi replaced some of the production with 10 kills of her own and a .318 hitting line. She also continued to be one of Cal’s only bright spots in the service arena. While the team has mightily struggled in that facet of the game all season, she’s been consistently strong and entered the top 10 for aces in a season by a Bear.

“I think, the past few seasons — our serve hasn’t been our best part, so this season, we’re really trying to get other teams out of their systems,” Dempi said. “For me, it obviously feels nice.”

Things looked to be going all right early on against the Beavers on Sunday. Oregon State doesn’t have a particularly large front line, and Dempi was leading an aggressive attack for the Bears early on. But an 8-7 lead quickly slipped to a 16-12 deficit that forced McShane to call a timeout. Things didn’t improve, and another timeout at 21-13 only slightly slowed down the Beavers on their way to a 25-14 first-set win.

Oregon State freshman libero Grace Massey was consistently in the right place to dig a seeming Bear kill, and along with a front line that rarely made mistakes and could switch between finesse and power without warning, it was simply too hard for Cal to get a foothold in the match.

“(The front line) is very skilled and they’ve been playing together for a long time,” McShane said. “Their setter knows how to get the ball to their hitters very well. I think a lot of it is comfort … they haven’t had to make many changes this season.”

The second set was tighter, at 25-21, and the Bears opened the third set with a 6-3 lead before battling down to the wire in a 25-23 loss. It was a good effort after a poor first set, but two 3-0 losses in what seemed to be prime moments for vengeance are tough pills to swallow.

Andrew Wild is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @andrewwild17.