Cal volleyball kicks off defining road trip against Oregon, Oregon State

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Over the past two weeks, Cal volleyball has upset teams originally thought of as far out of its reach. With newfound life, the Bears are hungry for a third big win this weekend, when they will face Oregon and Oregon State in away territory.

Cal’s 3-1 win over then-No. 21 Washington State on Sunday solidified the team’s power and capabilities, proving that its previous wins were not mere flukes or lucky occurrences.

To topple the Cougars last weekend, the Bears played with more scrappiness than usual and were forced to play in a well-rounded fashion.

“After this weekend, I think we really need to focus on just doing our job,” redshirt freshman Lauren Forte said. “We know we can do it — it’s just getting back to work on practice and working on the little things that coach will tell us.”

Forte’s blocking presence will be critical Friday night as the team faces No. 16 Oregon, certainly the more dominant of this weekend’s opponents.

This year’s Oregon squad is one of its more formidable in recent history. Just a few weeks into the season, the Ducks came out on top of then-No. 1 Minnesota with a 3-1 win in neutral territory.

Leading Oregon’s 11-player roster are seniors Sumeet Gill and Lindsey Vander Weide. Gill, a middle blocker, is the team’s most efficient hitter, recording a .352 hitting percentage, while outside hitter Vander Weide is responsible for 213 kills so far this season — the team’s high.

Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr is looking for her team to provide strong blocking this weekend, as defense continues to be a focus point of this week’s practice.

“The blocking came along, and even though they only count for one point, it’s kind of like a big momentum shift, and our team really feeds off the blocking,” Dorr said. “We’re on them all on the time that how you practice is how you play.”

Oregon has surrendered three conference matches to Arizona, Arizona State and Utah, though the Ducks managed to pull out 3-0 wins over the big dogs — UCLA and USC.

Oregon thus seems to perform better under pressure, against statistically favored teams, but that also couldn’t be more true of Cal. Since Pac-12 play began, the Bears have been playing with a renewed sense of energy and commitment to win — passion that seemed to lack in the earlier part of the season.

The teams have a lopsided history, as Cal has not beaten Oregon since 2011, but regardless of the result, Cal will head to Corvallis for a date with Oregon State on Sunday.

Eight matches into conference play, the Beavers are still looking to pick up a Pac-12 win. OSU pushed matches to a fifth-set tiebreaker against then-No. 13 Washington and Utah but failed to bring it all the way home.

This weekend, the Beavers return home after facing four tough opponents on the road. Cal is just one notch above OSU in the Pac-12 standings, and if the Beavers have a chance at a Pac-12 win this round of conference play, the win would be over the Bears.

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