Cal beach volleyball’s clean sweep against USF at home Friday signaled that the Bears are hungry for something more, but the Wildcat Invitational this weekend may serve up a meal too large for the Bears to devour.
After a week of practice to gear up for the big meal, No. 14 Cal will kick off the tournament with duals against Arizona State and No. 17 Stetson on Friday before facing Colorado Mesa and host team No. 15 Arizona on Saturday.
“The focus has been really high and the competitive edge that we’ve been bringing to practice will translate out in the games,” said senior captain Bryce Bark. “Everyone’s really excited to get out there.”
Although it is unranked, Arizona State (6-10) is on the rise after playing a series of duals against the nation’s best. Like the Bears, the Sun Devils overpowered Washington at the Pac-12 South Tournament, winning 4-1.
Arizona State — now on a three-match winning streak — suffered a narrow 3-2 loss to then-No. 14 Stanford, giving Cal plenty of reasons to come out with the utmost concentration and focus.
After facing the Sun Devils, the Bears will play against Stetson. Hailing all the way from Florida, the Hatters have played in 25 duals already, bringing considerable game experience to the table.
Stetson’s schedule has also allowed the team to play against a number of ranked opponents, and its six losses were all to teams that were then ranked 12th or higher. Stetson has already seen several teams the likes of Cal, while the Bears have gotten by with a fairly easy schedule.
Moving into the second day of the tournament, Cal will open Sunday with its dual against Colorado Mesa, a program still trying to gain its footing in the NCAA world. The Bears will likely use this matchup to hone in on their skills to ready themselves for the final course of the weekend.
Should the Bears defeat the Mavericks, they will need to hold tight to that energy as they take on the hosts — Arizona.
“Arizona is a good team and they definitely aren’t going to take their loss to us lightly,” Bark said.
The Wildcats, who will be playing on their home turf, will certainly be eager to avenge the 4-1 loss they took to the Bears at the Pac-12 South Tournament a couple of weekends ago.
Cal may have upset Arizona in straight sets the last time the teams saw each other, but the Bears recognize that the dual won’t be the same the second time around.
“They’re going to come out with even more strength than they did in Southern California,” Bark said. “Our whole team is really prepared to step up again. We know that it will be on their home turf, so it will be a big challenge for us. If we focus on our side of the net, we will have success.”
The Bears have a full plate this weekend, but the tournament is just a taste of the competition level that Cal will face over the next few weekends.
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].