No. 13 Cal beach volleyball is set to head into another tough weekend — the Pac-12 North Tournament in Seattle.
In the Pacific Northwest, the team will face a competitive field for two days. Cal will play Oregon and Washington on day 1 — two teams eager for an upset — and two ranked opponents the next day: No. 14 Stanford and No. 4 USC.
Cal’s first match Saturday will be against Washington, a team that the Bears swept in neutral territory at the Pac-12 South Tournament, 5-0. The win was momentous for Cal, but the Bears are staying levelheaded as they prepare to play the Huskies in away territory.
“In years past, we’ve seen that indoor teams especially get better as the season goes on — we’re mentally preparing for that,” said junior Grace Campbell. “Even though we beat them in L.A., we’re not taking that for granted and we’re coming in with a lot of focus.”
Cal will then meet Oregon for the second match of the day. The Ducks, who only recently started their season at the end of March, enter the tournament at a significant disadvantage, having only played in six duals. And those six haven’t gone well for Oregon.
The Ducks (2-4) suffered a 5-0 loss to St. Mary’s — a team near the same level as Cal — and also fell to Portland in their season opener. Still trying to gain its footing, Oregon will likely struggle against the more experienced Bears.
On Sunday, the Bears will first face the Trojans, the defending national champions. Cal’s 3-2 loss to USC earlier in the season was historic; although the Bears lost, it was the first time they avoided a clean sweep at the hands of the Trojans.
“We’re so excited to play them again,” Campbell said. “It was such a big deal last time, going 3-2 with them. To know that we can compete with some top-ranked teams is super exciting for us. We are going to go in with an underdog mentality, keep fighting and push them to their limit.”
The Bears’ final match of the tournament, against Stanford, will commence shortly after Cal attempts to dethrone the queen bees.
Last weekend, the Bears struggled to muster up the necessary energy for their final match, so the Cardinal may have the energy advantage, as the dual will be their first of the day.
“We had CMU (Colorado Mesa University) first and immediately played Arizona after, so the girls were pretty fatigued,” said head coach Meagan Owusu after the final dual of last week’s Wildcat Invitational.
Cal recently surpassed Stanford by one spot in the latest AVCA ranking, but the teams couldn’t be more evenly matched.
The Cardinal (13-9) have held their own against the nation’s literal best — No. 1 UCLA — while Cal has done so against teams such USC. The Cardinal have fallen to the Bruins on three occasions but nearly toppled UCLA with their 3-2 loss.
The Cardinal’s competitive drive won’t stop with the Bruins. The rivalry will certainly be apparent as the two teams compete for this important win.
“This is probably the biggest tournament of the year so far for us,” Campbell said. “We are super focused, excited and ready to go.”
Surina Khurana covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].