No place like Haas: Cal volleyball returns to Berkeley for final home matches

Zahira Chaudhry/Staff

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Time flies when you’re having fun, and Cal volleyball certainly has had a lot of it. After securing a big win during each of the past five weekends, the Bears (13-12, 5-9) have surpassed their conference wins from last year and matched their total wins. While Cal still has six remaining conference games on the schedule, this weekend’s matches against Oregon State and Oregon will be the Bears’ final time competing within the friendly confines of Haas Pavilion.

Cal will host Oregon State (11-15, 1-13) for a Thursday night game. At the team’s last encounter in Corvallis, the Bears took the match for their first sweep of a conference opponent.

Although Oregon State’s measly conference record appears far below mediocre, placing the Beavers last in Pac-12 standings, it’s important to take the team’s record with a grain of salt, acknowledging the difficulties of the conference.

But although Oregon State has exhibited growth, pushing several recent matches to five sets and even taking a set off No. 2 Stanford, the Beavers are just beginning to demonstrate the same improvements the Bears started displaying a month ago.

Sophomore libero Grace Massey leads Oregon State defensively, recording 4.61 digs per set, while senior Kayla Ellis continues to bolster the back row. Massey currently ranks second in the conference with 452 digs.

It’s no question that the Bears can take the Beavers at home. Cal already toppled Oregon State in away territory and has since upset a number of teams, including a 3-0 sweep over UCLA. But, it will be interesting to see whether the Bears can come out and execute, taking care of business early in three sets.

“When the communication is there, you can just tell we win games,” said junior outside hitter Maddie Haynes, who recorded a season-high 15 kills against Utah.

Cal will have a day off before returning to the court for its senior night game against Oregon. On paper, the Ducks are undeniably stronger than the Beavers. Oregon boasts a 16-8 overall record, with middle blocker Ronika Stone leading the Ducks’ offense.

Stone, who is on the Pac-12 leaderboard for hitting percentage and blocks per set, will likely be paired up against Cal sophomore Preslie Anderson or redshirt freshman Lauren Forte. Although Forte didn’t start the season as one of Cal’s starters, the middle blocker has quickly proven herself, recording 1.37 blocks per set.

While Oregon has had some unusual losses, dropping matches to Arizona State and Utah, the Ducks are consistent for the most part. A Cal win will be difficult, but it’s certainly not out of the question.

Haynes, who has been a part of the program under three different head coaches now — Rich Feller, Matt McShane and now Jennifer Dorr, has seen a noticeable change in the team dynamic.

“(There is a) fire and the want to play and practice every day and be competing against these Pac-12 schools,” Haynes said. “Being in the Pac-12, you’re competing against top-25 teams every single weekend. Our coaching staff is amazing now. They make the environment so enjoyable to be in practice and so enjoyable to want to get better, which is just so exciting.”

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