Cal volleyball will trade smoke for sprinkles this weekend as the team heads to the rainy Northwest. The team will face No. 20 Washington in Seattle on Friday before making the quick trip to Pullman on Sunday to play No. 18 Washington State.
The Bears head into these matchups coming off a somewhat anticipated weekend. After sweeping Oregon State, Cal fell to then-No. 17 Oregon in a three-setter, though the Bears did manage to push closer sets than last time.
But the Bears have toppled top-25 teams several times so far this season. It’s possible they could do so again this weekend, even though Washington (17-9, 9-7) is on a four-match win streak, having recently toppled Arizona State, Arizona, USC and UCLA.
Before their string of wins, the Huskies were unexpectedly struggling. In their first round of conference play, the Huskies dropped matches to a number of teams. But the team’s recent evolution and changes in its lineup have proven vital to its latest success.
“That’s something different that we’ve had to look at from a scouting perspective — just getting comfortable with the new personnel they have on the court,” said Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr. “As always, it comes down to our execution on our side of the net and then just being prepared for the offense our opponents will run at us.”
Washington, in particular, runs its offense at a fast pace and has a consistency that its opponents struggle to break.
“They do run it pretty fast to the outside,” Dorr said. “They’re very deliberate and disciplined. They are really good at the patterns they run, and they run them over and over again.”
At Cal’s last encounter with Washington, the Bears showed early signs of promise as they pushed the first set out in dramatic fashion before falling 28-30. Yet Cal just couldn’t manage to keep up in the next two sets, surrendering the match 3-0.
Although Washington State is not quite as fast as Washington, the Cougars find success largely from their size.
“Washington State is very big and very dynamic,” Dorr said. “They’re pretty tall in all positions across the front row, so that will be a good challenge for our block and defense.”
In the Cougars’ past few matches, outside hitter Taylor Mims has served as one of the team’s star hitters, but in Cal’s 3-1 victory over the Wazzu in early October, Mims sat out the match.
Although Mims’ temporary replacement, 5’8” Penny Tusa, was a dynamic force, the 6’3” Mims will be a whole other force to think about.
“(Mims is) somebody who we prepared to play the first time around, but then she didn’t (play), so we’ll go back to the drawing board and look at ways to slow her down offensively,” Dorr said. “She’s a good player for them and somebody we will have to try and contain.”
All three teams have seen their share of ups and downs this season. The Bears’ matches this weekend will be challenging, but the Bears have proven they have the ability within them.
“Any team can beat any other team on any given day,” Dorr said. “We feel like we’re prepared; we feel pretty healthy. Now we just have to go out and compete and know it’s going to be a battle and be OK being uncomfortable and getting challenged out there.”