Despite heading into this weekend with a 7-1 record, Cal beach volleyball wasn’t satisfied. Cal not only swept Sacramento State, San Jose State and Pacific, but it also avenged its season-opener loss with a 4-1 win over St. Mary’s.
While the Gaels took down the Bears in the first match of the year, Cal took each court Friday with fierce determination to prove its ability and extend its hot streak.
With the sun making an appearance and Thomas Rhett playing in the background, dogs, fans and teammates eagerly surrounded the sand pit to watch Cal junior Mia Merino and freshman Caroline Schafer battle it out against the Gaels’ junior Lindsey Calvin and freshman Kelsey Knudsen.
Though the Bears came away with a win in the first set, the tail end of the second was a constant back-and-forth battle, keeping everyone but the players on edge.
“I did not feel on my heels at any moment,” Merino said. “Honestly, I felt super confident in both of us because I know that we’re both really good volleyball players, and I have a lot of trust in (Schafer) as a partner.”
Winning the match was an especially important moment for Schafer, as she lost against the same opponents when she played with freshman Maddie Micheletti in Cal’s season-opener let-down.
“To come out and show them who we are (and) what Cal beach volleyball is and to have that rewarding win at home is really awesome,” Schafer said.
Following Merino and Schafer’s match, the No. 3 pairs took the court. Again, while Cal senior captain Bryce Bark and sophomore Madison Dueck were victorious in the first set, they struggled to maintain their dominance against SMC in the second, as the Gaels converted a 5-point deficit into a 1-point lead.
The two teams stayed competitive with each other for the remainder of the set, but a couple of Cal errors at the end forced a tiebreaker.
Before Bark would take a swing at the ball, she quickly recognized where her opponents were and where they weren’t. Dueck called out to her to hit line and she did, knowing no one would be there to defend that spot.
The Bears won the point.
A few more points like that in the third set pushed the Bears ahead of the Gaels and allowed Bark and Dueck to clinch the win over SMC. A fourth win from Cal’s No. 2 pair put the Bears up 4-0 before the all-freshmen No. 1 pair dropped its first match of the season in two sets.
“St. Mary’s is a really good team, and we really knew that we had to put in a hard fight and our best effort to beat them,” Bark said. “We knew going into this weekend, we needed to come out with all the same energy and aggression that we did last weekend. We knew we had to step up.”
Beating the Gaels at home was memorable to say the least, and the Bears gladly took home the other three wins as well. Now on an 11-win streak, Cal will look to keep their dominance as the team begins Pac-12 play.
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].