For those in Maples Pavilion on Saturday night, Cal volleyball created a thriller as it took on its ultimate foe, then-No. 2 Stanford. The Bears would eventually fall to the Cardinal in three sets, ending Cal’s season and pushing Stanford into the playoffs.
A match against one of the best programs in the nation was bound to be difficult. Stanford’s quick offense, coupled with a well-oiled and physically superior defense, set the squad up for excellence. But the underdogs pulled their weight and showed their might.
The Bears opened the match, not trailing the favored Cardinal, but building a small lead at 15-13. Cal expanded its lead, notching 3 more points in the time that Stanford took 2 — forcing Stanford head coach Kevin Hambly to call a timeout.
“(I told them) just to continue doing their jobs and being aggressive,” said Cal head coach Jennifer Dorr.
While they stayed aggressive, the Bears dropped a few points to the Cardinal, allowing them to tie things back up again at 20-20. After Stanford regained the lead, for the first time since the Cardinal were up 12-11, Cal notched back-to-back kills to cause the sixth lead change of the set.
Two kills from Stanford’s Courtney Bowen and two Cal errors left the Cardinal with the thrilling 25-23 win.
“We played a really good set almost all the way up until the end, and it was competitive,” Dorr said. “There was lots of long rallies, and (I told them) just to continue doing their jobs.”
The second set remained contested — though Cal never led, the set was tied on multiple occasions. The Cardinal notched a .297 hitting percentage to come out of the set with a 25-21 victory.
Cal hadn’t lost hope yet, though. The teams started the third set with more runs than side outs. Under libero Emma Smith’s serve, Cal went on a 4-point run to lead 10-8. But it was quickly matched by a Stanford run, allowing the Cardinal to regain the advantage.
Attack errors from sophomore Mima Mirkovic, junior Maddie Haynes and redshirt freshman Lauren Forte gave Stanford points Cal just couldn’t afford to lose, especially so late in the set.
Unable to recover from the growing deficit, Cal ultimately surrendered the set 25-19, concluding the final match of its 2018 season.
Although Stanford junior Kathryn Plummer had an off day, matching her sole seven kills with seven attacking errors, sophomore Meghan McClure and Bowen recorded 11 kills each, with a total of five errors.
While Cal ended its season with a three-set loss, the Bears continued to show their everlasting fight against the conference champions. The team’s drive and self-belief have allowed this Cal roster to make the 2018 season a historic one for the program.
Despite ending the season with a losing record, the Bears recorded their most wins since 2013, with 15, and toppled seven conference teams, also the most since Cal’s 2013 season.
“We were playing against what will probably be the No. 1 team in the country, as of tomorrow, and I thought we gave them a great run for their money,” Dorr said. “It would have been easy to just roll over and get it over with, but I thought we showed a lot of grit, determination and growth in the match, especially with it being our last one.”