Cal volleyball recorded a historic win this weekend, toppling No. 24 Utah on the Utes’ home court. After the Sunday victory marked the Bears’ first Pac-12 win of the season and snapped the team’s six-game losing skid, it’s safe to say that the Bears are back in business.
Cal’s Sunday win, while monumental, came on the heels of yet another five-set loss Friday to Colorado, meaning this weekend’s split was far from a perfect road trip.
The Bears, hungry for a win after dropping two of their past three matches in five-set struggles, seemed poised to snap the skid Friday when they emerged from the third set with a 2-1 set lead.
In the fourth set of the match, though, the Buffaloes were on their game. Colorado pushed from a 9-9 standstill to go on a five-point run, with junior Rachel Whipple leading the way from the service line. Another six-point run for the Buffaloes left Colorado on the cusp of another crucial set win, which it eventually secured.
Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr has continuously stressed the importance of quick starts in each set, especially in the fifth. On Friday night, however, it appeared as though the Bears simply didn’t have the steam they needed to fight for that successful start.
Surrendering two to three points for every point gained, the Bears quickly fell behind the Buffaloes, costing them the 15-8 set and, therefore, the match. The defeat marked Cal’s fourth fifth-set loss of the season.
“To go out and follow the scouting report against a good Utah team is our job, and regardless of the previous match, we had to come out and be ready for the next one,” Dorr said.
And ready they were. Coming in at full force, both Cal and Utah pushed themselves out of tight matches, notching 25-23 victories to each claim a set. Fresh off their second-set win, the Utes propelled themselves further, finding their groove and shutting down the Bears’ offense.
Cal’s attack errors across the net in tandem with kills from the Utes’ Dani Drews and Kenzie Koerber gave Utah the set in a mere matter of minutes; the Bears scored a meager nine points.
Despite the subpar third-set performance, Cal wasn’t quite ready to accept defeat. With redshirt freshman Lauren Forte playing her best and freshman Makana Meyer contributing her own kills, the Bears pulled ahead of the Utes, forcing yet another fifth set in their 25-23 win.
Snatching a 7-0 run in the fifth set under sophomore Kat Knop’s serve, Cal finally had the fast start Dorr was looking for, pulling away early during crunch time.
“We got a great start to that fifth set, and I think that confidence just carried us through,” Dorr said. “Utah definitely pushed back there, in the middle of the set, but we had built up enough of a lead where we were comfortable continuing to be aggressive and to go after it.”
The win was instrumental for the team, the program and for Dorr, who can finally eradicate questions surrounding Cal’s inability to take down Pac-12 foes.
“We’d been learning a lot from these four five-set losses, and to get over the hump today and to be fearless at the end of a set and of a match was huge for our young team,” Dorr said.