After two straight weekends and six matches on the road, Cal volleyball is more than ready to welcome Pacific for a Thursday evening match in Haas Pavilion.
The Bears will play their weeknight match before taking the short drive over to Moraga on Sunday to face Saint Mary’s.
With conference play beginning next week, this week’s matchups are Cal’s final chances to work out its kinks and become a single unit.
Pacific (4-5) fell to Cal’s Pac-12 foes Arizona and Arizona State earlier this season and also dropped a 3-1 match to Northern Colorado, a team Cal pushed past two weeks ago.
Like the Bears, the Tigers have a youthful roster. With five freshmen playing in a majority of the team’s last nine matches, Pacific’s dismal record is somewhat expected — the players are new to each other and, of course, new to the collegiate level of volleyball.
That said, Cal, too, is struggling to connect on the court. Lacking the synergy and familiarity that comes with time and practice, the Bears had multiple miscommunications where they dropped easy points, unsure who would take the responsibility to pass the ball.
“Still a lot of it is on our side of the net,” said Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr. “Getting our system smoother, our connections with our hitters better and just not giving away points in bunches.”
Although in their past few matches the Bears have stayed tough enough to match most of their opponents’ runs with runs of their own, it will be critical to limit those scoring periods, especially when the Bears face the Gaels.
Saint Mary’s (6-2) is already making a name for itself this early in the season. In just its second match of the season, Saint Mary’s toppled then-No.19 Utah in a five-set showdown — and did so in Utah territory.
The back-and-forth match highlighted the Gaels’ perseverance, cohesion and ultimately their talent. Toppling a ranked opponent, and doing so without a supportive home base, is no easy feat. Saint Mary’s is ready for another high-intensity match, and Cal better make sure to bring it.
The Gaels return two of their strongest hitters — Lindsey Calvin and Lindsey Knudsen. Knudsen, who previously played on the beach team as well, is hitting a .208 and Calvin leads the team with a .311 percentage for her 251 attacks.
The work Cal has put into bettering its block and defense will be put to the test against Saint Mary’s powerhouse hitters. In recent matches, the Bears have had strong success in closing their block and shutting down big hitters. Sophomore middle blocker Preslie Anderson, in particular, has been a strong force at the net and freshman Bella Bergmark is following her lead.
The two middles are also serving as some of Cal’s strongest offensive assets, with Bergmark tallying 32 kills thus far and Anderson recording a whopping .416 hitting percentage.
“We need to be able to … make sure each contact we have is good, better and best,” Dorr said.
Cal’s final two nonconference matches will be a tone-setting trial run that will prepare the Bears for the grueling Pac-12 road that lies ahead.