Cal volleyball falls to No. 2 Stanford in Big Spike to open Pac-12 play

Ketki Samel/Staff

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Just as the mitochondrion is the powerhouse of the cell, sophomore Mima Mirkovic is the powerhouse of Cal volleyball. Despite suffering a 3-0 loss to No. 2 Stanford, Mirkovic never once lost her fiery spirit. Starting off the match with a big kill off the hands of the Cardinal, Mirkovic made her presence known Wednesday night — as an outside hitter, but even more so as a leader.

“It gives them confidence because she’s one of the few players that is on the court full-time for us right now,” said Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr. “To see her battle each point, each rally, gives them the confidence to want to battle themselves.”

The Bears began the match on their home court with a heightened level of energy. Not quite matching Stanford’s fast pace, Cal focused on making smart plays and led the Cardinal 7-4 in the first set.

After experiencing the full-force effect of the Cardinal’s block, put up by 6’6” junior Audriana Fitzmorris and 6’4” freshman Holly Campbell, the Bears decided not to fight the wall but to use it to their advantage.

With Cal junior Bailee Huizenga placing a smart dink on the inside of the block and senior Carmen Annevelink swinging high, hitting off the hands of her foes, the Bears were using their heads to compensate for their smaller stature. And it was working.

That is, until Cal’s passing deteriorated under Stanford junior Kathryn Plummer’s jump serve. Struggling to get a good pass and playing consistently out of system, the Bears sent easy balls over the net, allowing the Cardinal to quickly rack up points.

Now in a six-point hole, Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr called a timeout at 17-11. The Bears refocused and managed to pull out a few more points, but the Cardinal were far ahead and finished the set 25-16.

The Bears opened the second set similar to how they left the first. Struggling to pass Stanford libero Morgan Hentz’s serves and making far too many errors, the Bears let the Cardinal take the lead early.

At one point, Cal was down 18-11, but the Bears were still rallying. Sophomore middle blockers Lauren Forte and Preslie Anderson — whose previous timing with the setters was off — recorded kills that went straight down, completely unopposed.

“I’m just focusing on all the good things we’re doing — we’re making scramble plays, we’re making amazing digs, we’re making really good blocks,” Mirkovic said. “We’re staying in the game, we’re staying confident — that’s something I have to smile about.”

Those high moments brought Cal back to being just a single point away from Stanford at 24-23. The Bears were hungry for the point that would tie them with the No. 2 team in the nation, but the Cardinal were even more eager to assert their dominance; a kill from Fitzmorris put Stanford up 2-0.

As the teams took the court for the third set, Cal fans were likely remembering how the Bears recently pulled out a five-set win after being down 2-0 in their recent match against Pacific.

Ultimately, history did not repeat itself. Although the Bears dropped the third set 25-14 to fall 3-0, Cal learned how much potential lies in its team’s bones.

“I think there were some moments of brilliance out there, and we just need to get better at sustaining it and not being afraid of seizing the moment,” Dorr said. “That comes with consistent practice and consistent execution of those skills and of that aggression.”

The Bears will have another opportunity to practice executing those skills and playing at a high level with their upcoming Sunday match at home against Arizona State.

The Sun Devils, who opened Pac-12 play Thursday, will provide good competition for the Bears before they face tougher conference opponents next week.

“We showed that we can compete with the No. 2 team in the nation,” said Mirkovic. “And that we could have the potential to beat them.”

Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.