Cal volleyball drops final two matches of season

Yukun Zhang/File

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Cal volleyball’s season has been much like Berkeley’s recent weather — dreary and bleak. The team’s recent record — primarily losses with little wins here and there — mirrors the primarily gray skies with little blue throughout. The Bears, however, managed to make their own sunshine despite dropping their final two matches Wednesday and Saturday to Colorado and No. 4 Stanford, 3-0, as they honored the seniors prior to their final match.

Thursday’s match was dominated by Colorado junior outside hitter Frankie Shebby, who led her team with 17 kills. While Cal’s middle blocker Preslie Anderson contributed six kills, the Bears’ pin hitters struggled to put the ball away against a strong Buffaloes defense, preventing them from matching the success of Shebby.

“Frankie is a real talented athlete, where she can do things with her arm swing and with her jump that made it difficult for our block to be able to defend,” said Cal interim head coach Jennifer Dorr. “She’s definitely a go-to player for them. She’s somebody that we were highly tuned into on our scouting report, but until you get out there and actually have to play against it and defend it, it can take a while to get used to the speed.”

With Shebby leading the way, the Bears struggled to gain a lead in the first two sets but did manage to to stay even with the Buffs for much of the third set, even taking a slight 11-10 lead at one point. A few Cal hitting errors along with kills for each of Colorado’s top hitters allowed the Buffs to close out the final set 25-19.

No. 4 Stanford visited Haas Pavilion on Saturday and took the match in a 3-0 sweep, but the Bears were still happy with their performance against the Cardinal, who rank first or second in five of the Pac-12’s six categories.

“Before the game, we talked about giving 1000 percent because we knew it was our last match of the season and the last time playing with the seniors,” said freshman Mima Mirkovic. “I think we did a really nice job just giving it everything we’ve got and going hard, swinging at every ball, just being aggressive, smart volleyball players.”

Stanford led the first set with a large margin, but Cal closed in on the Cardinal’s 22-16 lead to make it a close 23-21. Two back-to-back kills from Stanford, however, allowed the Cardinal to take the set. In the second set, the Bears kept it close for half of the set, at one point tying it up 13-13. The Cardinal scored 10 of the subsequent 11 plays, though, establishing a clear path to victory.

“We talked about (how) Stanford wasn’t going to get any shorter after the second game,” Dorr said. “Their block definitely started to wear us down offensively, their tough serving scored a few points for them, and there’s a reason why they’re the No. 4 team in the nation. They’re highly talented in many positions.”

Playing more consistently, Cal prevented Stanford from going on another 9-point run in the third set, but key kills by the Cardinal’s Kathryn Plummer near the end put Stanford in place to take the set 25-17.

“They’re playing with a starting lineup they’ve been playing with since the end of August, so their consistency and their ability to know each other on the court is something we haven’t had the pleasure of having,” Dorr said.

Despite not taking a set off of Stanford, the Bears had success in out-digging the Cardinal. Cal focused on defense, particularly defending off the block, in practice this week. The coaches were especially proud of seeing those efforts pay off.

“I think we had some more consistency this match,” Dorr said. “The level of our opponent was higher than previous matches so that was a challenge in itself. Had we played at this level versus a USC or UCLA, we might have been stealing some sets against those teams. It was a definite improvement from the previous three matches.”

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