No. 11 Cal beach volleyball faces last regular season matches, 3rd against Stanford

A volleyball player jumps into the air to strike the ball over the net.
Karen Chow/File

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This Saturday, the No. 11 Cal beach volleyball team will be back at Stanford to face its last two opponents of the regular season before heading into the Pac-12 championships.

The three-team mini-tournament will start with a quick rematch against the No. 7 Cal Poly Mustangs. Last weekend, the Bears just barely missed their chance to make the top-10 rankings during the Pepperdine Invitational in Malibu — they lost 2-3 with the final match coming down to the smallest margin possible in the third set.

This season, the Mustangs have had a history of losing to unexpected teams such as No. 14 Loyola Marymount and No. 12 Arizona. The Bears may not have been able to pull off an upset the first time, but their odds of earning a win against the Mustangs look a bit better this time around.

First, Cal will be playing at the Stanford Beach Volleyball Stadium, and while it’s not home turf, this is a setting that the Bears have become increasingly familiar with in past years and especially this season.

Second, Cal barely lost last time it faced Cal Poly. The Bears’ No. 3 and No. 5 duos solidly beat their opponents in two sets each. The No. 4 pair of senior Mia Merino and junior Abby Walburger came up just short, losing in the third set, 15-13.

Merino and Walburger have been a consistently solid resource for the Bears; on top of their chemistry together, their years of experience have made them quick learners.

If they make use of their adaptability, they could gain enough of an edge over their Mustang counterparts in order to win their own match and swing the overall odds in favor of the Bears.

After their more unpredictable match against Cal Poly, Cal will immediately face No. 20 Stanford for the third time this season. The Bears won the last two matchups against their rivals, 3-2, also on Cardinal territory. While Cal’s dominance has been consistent so far, the team should be careful not to get too comfortable.

Stanford is a smart team, always learning about the weaknesses of its opponents and developing its own strengths. That being said, Stanford has suffered several unanticipated losses throughout the season, leaving it with a record of 10-14.

Its latest loss came against No. 19 Saint Mary’s in a brutal 0-5 disappointment. Cal has beaten Saint Mary’s twice this season, 5-0 and 3-2. Based on all of those statistics, Cal should be able to maintain the upper hand.

The Bears’ chances at an NCAA national championship qualification at this point are low, but every win counts going forward into the Pac-12 championships and beyond.

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