Freshmen play key role in extending Cal beach volleyball win streak

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Levi Dickenson engineered the first broom, but Cal beach volleyball exemplified a textbook example of what it means to sweep. On Friday, the Bears brushed their opponents out of the way and prevailed against San Jose State and West Valley College, beating the Spartans, 4-1, and the Vikings, 5-0.

Though the dual against WVC was regarded as an exhibition game and thus does not count toward the team’s overall record, it still gave the Bears a valuable opportunity to compete.

Changes to Cal’s lineup from Thursday’s dual carried over into Friday’s, as the freshmen pair of Mima Mirkovic and Alexia Inman owned the No. 2 spot for just the second time. The rookies matched up against veterans from San Jose State, senior Ciara Reistad and junior Julia Golbeck.

“(Mirkovic) and (Inman) did a wonderful job of moving from the three pair to the two pair and really taking care of business,” said Cal head coach Meagan Owusu. “They dominated their matches from the beginning until the end.”

Mirkovic and Inman consistently stayed ahead in their first set, and at one point led by 9 points, 15-6. The duo closed set one decisively at 21-12, but the second set wasn’t quite the same walk in the park.

The pair struggled to keep up with the Spartans, taking a 2-point deficit towards the latter part of the set — a crucial time to be ahead. Nevertheless, the right mentality enabled the Bears come back and execute a 21-19 win, finishing the match without having to enter a tiebreaker and concluding the day for Cal.

“It was really important for us to just maintain focus and worry about what we were doing on our own side and worry each other rather than … circumstances that are out of our control,” Mirkovic said.

Since the loss to St. Mary’s in the team’s season opener, Owusu has been drilling in the importance of self-focus and personal reflection. The players adopted a strategy of staying concerned with their own play and focusing less on the uncontrollables — their opponents’ performance and stormy weather included.

Cal senior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Iya Lindahl needed more than the self-reflective mindset for their match against the Spartans’ senior Nandyala Gama and graduate student Lyndi Scholl.

Despite only having a 3-point deficit in the beginning of the first set, Gaffney and Lindahl were only able to score 3 points to the Spartans’ 9, dropping the set 21-12. Cal hardly fared better in the second set, managing to score just 3 more points.

Gaffney and Lindahl struggled with their opponents and were the Bears’ only pair to drop a match or a set against San Jose State. The other four pairs won their matches without going to a single tiebreaker set, clearly establishing the team’s ability with a 4-1 victory.

“Getting three wins in a row is really important for us going into next week, where we have four matches,” Mirkovic said. “It helps us knowing that we are in the running, we are a team that can compete and that we should be looked out for.”

Sand may be difficult to sweep, but the Bears continue to prove they can do it.

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