2 easy matchups to start Cal beach volleyball’s tough 2019 season

A volleyball player bumps the ball while on the sand.
Ethan Epstein/File

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Like much of UC Berkeley’s student population, Cal’s beach volleyball team is young and ambitious. Despite 2018 marking the most successful season in the program’s history, 2019’s difficult schedule could still prove too large a bite to swallow.

Last season’s achievements included a program-high record of 24 wins to eight losses. The Bears ended play with a new view, ranked No. 12 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, or AVCA, the highest they’ve ever achieved. They ended this season in this same spot, and DiG Magazine placed them one notch higher in its own preseason rankings.

All of these new heights seem promising for the team’s potential to excel again in 2019 and achieve its ultimate goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year. The schedule lined up for the program’s sixth season, however, is record-breaking in and of itself and will not make success an easy task.

Overall, Cal will be facing off with 13 teams that ended last year nationally ranked. Among these, four qualified for the 2018 NCAA Championships, and eight were ranked in the top 10 nationally.

Cal is also queued up for two matches, each against No. 1 UCLA, the defending champion, and No. 2 USC.

The schedule may be daunting, but no one can say that the Bears don’t have the talent potential. Out of last year’s top-10 players, eight are returning, including sophomore Mima Mirkovic and junior Iya Lindahl.

Mirkovic ended last season as an All-Pac-12 First Team selection, while Lindahl was a Second Team pick. Cal beach volleyball’s first All-American pair of senior Grace Campbell and sophomore Maddie Micheletti will also be returning to the court together.

In addition to these tried-and-true Bears, four new true freshmen also await the chance to put their skills to use.

Joining them as a new face in the program is volunteer assistant coach Paul Araiza. After graduating from San Diego State, Araiza went on to coach successful teams in all levels of the sport and found some of his own success competing on the Association of Volleyball Professionals Tour, where he has recorded three top-10 finishes since 2005.

In other coaching news, program head Meagan Owusu achieved recognition last season when she was included in the AVCA Thirty Under 30 list for new and promising coaching talent. She has led the Bears to a national ranking in each of her three seasons at Cal, proving that the team is in good hands.

Past successes and upcoming challenges have run the anticipation high for this season. Fans are eager but nervous to see how the Bears fare in 2019 with such a rigorous schedule.

The challenge of this season, however, will not kick in right away, as Cal is set to meet its first opponents, Santa Clara and USF, early Saturday morning on the Clark Kerr Sand Courts for an expectedly easy tri-tournament.

The Broncos ended last season with a record of 1-13, while the Dons went 4-11. Both teams lost to Cal 5-0 during the 2018 season. Such numbers make it clear that this weekend should be a breezy start to the Bears’ season and an enjoyable grace period for fans.

Alison White covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].