A few weeks ago, No. 19 Cal beach volleyball lost the first dual of its season — the only blemish on the season with the Bears’ in the midst of a seven-win streak.
This weekend, Cal will have the opportunity to avenge that sole imperfection, as it plays St. Mary’s once again — this time at home.
But the Gaels aren’t the Bears’ only competition this weekend. Cal will play Sacramento State and St. Mary’s on Friday and San Jose State and Pacific on Saturday.
With the Bears having played three of the four teams already — the lone exception being Sacramento State — they have a good idea of what to expect.
“We are facing three other Bay Area schools, so it’s always fun to compete against your neighbors and for teams that we’ve already beat, they are looking to take us down, so it’ll be a lot of fun competition,” said head coach Meagan Owusu.
If the Bears play remotely like they did in the Stanford Tournament, the dual against the winless Hornets should be a warm up before the Bears face the Gaels.
In the past four encounters between Sacramento State and Cal, Cal came away with the win. When the teams met last season, the Bears beat the Hornet, 4-1, the only dropped set being a pair of seniors who have since graduated.
Following their matchup with the Hornets, the Bears will have their redemption dual — arguably the most important one of the weekend. St. Mary’s is unranked by the AVCA beach volleyball poll, but the Gaels’ only dropped dual so far this season was to now-No. 14 Stanford.
In the teams’ last encounter, several strong performances from St. Mary’s in combination with Cal’s first-match jitters allowed the Gaels to take the win, 3-2.
In particular, St. Mary’s No. 1 pair — juniors Payton Rund and Morgan Hughes — shone as they defeated Cal’s senior Jessica Gaffney and sophomore Iya Lindahl, 21-15, 21-14. The Gaels’ top duo gave the Bears a tough match, but Cal has since changed its lineup a number of times.
In the past four duals, the all-freshmen pair of Alexia Inman and Mima Mirkovic, Cal’s sole undefeated pair, has taken reign of Cal’s No. 1 spot.
Re-ranking the pairs wasn’t Owusu’s only modification. She also split up freshmen Caroline Schafer and Maddie Micheletti, who fell in that first dual against St. Mary’s, and paired them with older teammates who have more experience.
“We’ve switched up our lineup since the last time we played St. Mary’s, but more than anything, we are playing with a consistent confidence each and every match, and that allows us to play at a really high level,” Owusu said.
The Bears won’t have much time to sulk or celebrate, as they have a busy day Saturday on deck against San Jose State and Pacific.
In their first matchup of the season, Cal dropped one match to San Jose State en route to a 4-1 victory, but it improved the next time around with a perfect 5-0 victory the second time.
Likewise, Cal took a decisive 4-1 victory over Pacific when the teams first played in Stockton. As they go into their fourth and final dual of the weekend, it’ll be important that the Bears stay level-headed and continue to focus on the game they bring on their side of the net — something Owusu consistently emphasizes.
“We are a different team than we were the last time we played St. Mary’s,” Owusu said. “I know the entire squad has been waiting to face them again. It will be a really fun match.”
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].