Cal beach volleyball prepares to take on Santa Clara in home opener

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Though Berkeley is cloudy, rainy, cold and practically the opposite of beach volleyball weather, there is still no place like home. Cal beach volleyball players will have that comfortable, satisfying feeling of playing on home sand for the first time this season as they open the Clark Kerr Sand Courts to Bay Area foe Santa Clara.

Thursday’s match will be the Broncos’ first. Having already put the first-match nerves behind them, the Cal players’ previous experience this season will serve as a significant advantage.

“We definitely get to use last weekend’s competition and experience to our benefit (this) weekend,” said head coach Meagan Owusu.

Santa Clara finished last year with a record of 3-12 and took fourth at the West Coast Conference Championships. Jensen Cunningham, the Broncos’ only player who didn’t record more losses than wins, is no longer with the team.

Nonetheless, the Bears will have to keep an eye out for sophomore Allison Kantor, who played on the No. 1 pair as a freshman last year, as well as new faces in freshmen Chloe Loreen and Kathryn Decker.

Loreen joins the Broncos’ roster as a an accomplished all-around athlete, having won a state championship in volleyball as well as being a star track and field athlete.

Likewise, Decker has a belt full of accolades, being Oregon’s Gatorade Player of the Year last year and leading her high school team to an indoor state championship in back-to-back years.

Despite the fresh faces on Santa Clara’s team, Cal’s performance against St. Mary’s and Pacific last week demonstrated that the team can handle Santa Clara.

The Bears rebounded after a close 3-2 loss to the Gaels to beat the Tigers, 4-1. Starring in the day’s matches was the all-freshmen pair of Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman, who defeated both of their opponents.

Senior captain Bryce Bark thinks one reason the team is at a higher level than in previous years is because of how much the program has grown in terms of size. Though the team has 19 players on the roster, only 10 of them compete.

“It’s hard to make the travel roster, which is an insane concept to me because I was used to 12 girls just being put on the roster my freshman year,” Bark said. “My freshman year there were so few of us — maybe 10 of us practicing in the offseason and then maybe 12 of us competing in the regular season. It’s really great because our skill and competition level is a lot higher.”

The Bears still have to prove if the program has really grown and improved. After Cal tackles Santa Clara at home, it will travel the next day to Saratoga to play West Valley College and San Jose State. Cal’s performance in Saratoga will give a better glimpse of how far Cal beach volleyball has really come.

“It’s clear that we have the skills and the talent to be a really good team this season,” Owusu said. “Going into next week, there’s a lot more focus on in-game decision making and mindset.”

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