Cal volleyball drops key match to Arizona ahead of battle with Stanford

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Cal volleyball couldn’t hold off No. 23 Arizona in its Wednesday afternoon match, falling 3-2 and leaving the Bears with just one game left on their schedule. All good things must come to an end, and Saturday, Cal will face No. 2 Stanford at Maples Pavilion for its final match.

The Bears started out shaky against the Wildcats in the opening set, letting their opponents build an 8-point lead early on. Although Cal went on a 4-point run with junior Maddie Haynes serving her floater, it wasn’t enough to compensate for the deficit that the team already faced.

After dropping the first set 25-17, the Bears played considerably better in the second set. Although Cal has struggled with second sets in the past, its performance against Arizona completely flipped the dynamic of the game. Effective setting by Isabel Potter, who would go on to record 38 assists, helped Cal pull off a 25-18 win to even things up.

Tied at a set apiece, both teams were eager to obtain a decisive edge. After the Wildcats secured the third set 25-19, Cal took the fourth set from behind with a 25-23 win to push things to a tiebreaker set.

Fifth sets are about executing, and executing quickly — there’s no time for unforced errors. The game is a race to 15 points.

Cal, however, began the fifth set significantly lagging. As the Wildcats raced ahead to lead 5-0 with Julia Patterson serving, it was clear that the Bears had lost whatever footing they gained from the previous set.

Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr’s timeout and a handful of challenge calls were not enough to put the Bears back on track to win the short set, and Cal ultimately surrendered the match with its 15-10 loss in set No. 5.

With the loss to Arizona, the unranked Bears will almost certainly not receive an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, though one critical match still remains.

On Saturday, Cal will play Stanford in the land of the Cardinal to wrap up the teams’ conference play. The Bears’ foes from across the Bay are nicely situated at the top of the Pac-12 standings and still remain second in the country, just behind top-ranked BYU.

Led by powerhouse hitter and defender Kathryn Plummer, the Cardinal have not lost a single conference match and boast a pristine 27-1, 19-0 record. Plummer has recorded more than 20 kills on six separate occasions this season. Accompanying the 6’6” hitter at the net are junior Audrianna Fitzmorris and senior Tami Alade.

Alade, a middle blocker, currently leads the conference in both hitting efficiency and blocks per set. Although Cal’s middle blockers, sophomore Preslie Anderson and redshirt freshman Lauren Forte, are both on those leaderboards, the team struggled against the well-oiled Stanford machine in its last encounter.

The Cardinal offense is run by setter Jenna Gray and the defense by libero Morgan Hentz. Gray leads the Pac-12 in aces and assists per sets and recorded a season high of 62 assists against Colorado.

This Stanford lineup is experienced, with players at each position who are some of the best in the nation. Cal, on the other hand, features a young squad, still learning and still growing. Saturday’s match will likely mark the end of the Bears’ season, but the best is still yet to come.

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