No. 10 Cal beach volleyball finishes 3rd for 2nd year in a row

Karen Chow /File

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No. 10 Cal beach volleyball has had a whirlwind season this year, and its final tournament matched that same trend.

Last year at the Pac-12 championships, the Bears found themselves ending their season in third place behind California rivals UCLA and USC, the reigning national champion and runner-up, respectively.

Cal had high hopes of surpassing that achievement at the tournament this year but only managed to mirror its former self.

As the third seed, Cal started the tournament Thursday with a match against the unranked Arizona State Sun Devils, a team the Bears beat 5-0 earlier this season during the Pac-12 South tournament. This meetup would not have a repeat outcome.

The first four games saw Cal’s No. 3 and No. 5 duos win while Arizona State took No. 1 and No. 4. The win went to the Sun Devils as the No. 2 Bears lost their match 15-12 in the third set.

This loss was an upset for the Bears, who held the upper hand going into the match. The main differences between this game and others were the pairings.

For the majority of this season, Cal’s No. 1 pair has consisted of sophomore Mima Mirkovic and freshman Jordan Polo, while the No. 2 spot has been held by sophomores Maddie Micheletti and Caroline Schafer. This game saw Polo and Schafer switch spots.

While this first day was disappointing, head coach Meagan Owusu chose to keep the new pairings going into the next day of play. After this initial loss, the Bears would have to win every game going forward to avoid elimination.

Friday saw the Bears play three grueling matches and push through them all. First up were the Washington Huskies in the morning. Cal had already beat the Huskies 4-1 twice this season but now knew better than to underestimate former conquests. Cal took the victory, 3-1.

The Bears carried that success over for a second 3-1 win against the No. 13 Arizona Wildcats in the early afternoon. These wins kept them in the double-elimination tournament and immediately gave them the opportunity to redeem themselves against Arizona State.

This time, Cal got the job done to finish the day undefeated, showing what their new pairings are capable of. This performance sealed a position for the Bears in the finals the next day along with the No. 1 UCLA Bruins and the No. 2 USC Trojans.

Scheduling put the Bears and the Bruins face to face midday Saturday. In their last two meetings this season, UCLA won both, 5-0 and 4-1. The reigning national champions continued their dominance and refused to drop a single game, beating every Cal duo in only two sets each.

Despite the initial upset loss and the final brutal takedown, the Bears finished the Pac-12 championship once again in third place. While the Bears had been hoping to qualify for the NCAA national championships this year, their performance this season was not quite good enough.

The NCAA Women’s Beach Volleyball Selection Committee decisions came out Sunday and listed USC, UCLA, Florida State, Pepperdine, LSU, Cal Poly, Hawaii and Stetson as the eight teams whose seasons will continue on.

For the Bears, this marked the end of their 2019 play. They might not have achieved all of their goals, but records were broken regardless. Cal ends the season ranked higher than ever and, while the Bears’ advancement may be slower than they wanted, they have set themselves up to reach even higher goals next season and beyond.

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