Cal beach volleyball practices consistency, communication with 2 easy victories

Beach volleyball player Madison Dueck spikes the ball.
Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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While Saturday’s three-team tournament against Santa Clara and the University of San Francisco might have been a breezy set of wins for the Cal beach volleyball team, the day was anything but unimportant. The two 5-0 sweeps gave the Bears crucial opportunities to practice their competition play before their schedule brings them face to face with several more challenging foes.

“While the teams didn’t challenge them too much, they still got the opportunity of having their friends and family and fans watching and having music playing,” said head coach Meagan Owusu. “So that whole competition atmosphere, which adds pressure and can be a distraction — they got to practice in that environment, and they did beautifully.”

That level of focus paid off, as the Bears refused to drop even a single set on the day. The closest anyone came to taking a win was still a 21-15 victory for Cal in the second set of the fours flight between senior Mia Merino and junior Abby Waldburger and their Santa Clara counterparts — so really not close at all.

“The thing that I’m most proud of was our athletes’ ability to play at our level consistently throughout the entire day,” Owusu said.

It can be easy to play down to an inferior team’s level in situations in which a win is the expected outcome, but Cal stayed sharp throughout the entire tournament and fully utilized the skills and training the players had been developing throughout the offseason.

“There are a lot of things that happen during competition that are out of our control,” Owusu said. “So rather than dwelling on those factors, we put our focus on all of the things that we can control and are within our power to influence. And I think the team did a really good job of doing that today.”

One of the best examples of Cal’s abilities went on display on Court 1 when Cal’s ones team of sophomore Mima Mircovic and freshman Jordan Polo took on Santa Clara’s duo of Tessie Powers and Taylor Odom.

Despite starting the first set with a 4-0 deficit, Mirkovic and Polo came back for a resounding 21-10 win. But it was in the second set that their communication really started to take effect. Each time one of them went up for a swing, the other took only a split second to observe the opponent’s court, make a calculated decision and give direction. They both found the sand almost every time.

At a score of 8-6 in the second set, Cal got the serve and kept it, racking up points with kills and blocks from both Mirkovic and Polo until they sat at a comfortable 19-6 score over their opponents. A missed serve gave Santa Clara the conversion, but Mirkovic immediately recovered possession with a deep push to the back line for a score of 20-7.

One final kill sealed the victory at 21 for Cal, marking the pair’s first of this season and Polo’s first of her collegiate career. Despite the pressure of being immediately placed in the ones flight for her debut, the freshman gave an impressive performance and showed her potential to be a major threat to opponents in the future.

Cal has now proved its abilities in the face of expected victory, but Saturday’s competition was far from indicative of the rest of the season — the Bears will have to continue rising if they want to be a threat to bigger and better teams in the future.

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