One day better. That’s Cal volleyball’s new motto and you’ll find it written on the team’s whiteboard and repeated daily in Haas Pavilion. It’s brought by the program’s new head coach Sam Crosson and the team playing by that motto will, at last, be put to the test in its upcoming season opener.
Following an exhibition match against UC Davis last Friday, Cal will kick off its 2019 season at the Colorado State Tournament this weekend. This weekend’s schedule is the first of three consecutive away tournaments, keeping the Bears on the road until Sep. 19.
Cal retains much of its starting lineup, only two freshmen joined the squad. The Bears will still be a very different team from when they were last in action, largely because of Crosson.
“I got a very good, less pressured timeframe with the team when I first got here because we were in spring,” Crosson said. “I needed a period of time to see what this place actually looks like, what these players actually look like, how their interactions are, their skill sets, their athleticism — it was a full evaluation of the program and its current status.”
Prior to coming to Berkeley, Crosson was the head coach at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he transformed the Mustangs’ program. While his first season in San Luis Obispo yielded a meager 4-26 record, Crosson literally reversed things in the next five years, leading his team to a 27-3 record and an undefeated conference championship title.
Crosson’s presence at Cal is no guarantee for success, yet the combination of intensity, precision and vigor that Crosson brings into Haas Pavilion could promise a brighter future, possibly one with an NCAA tournament on the horizon.
“If we make the tournament, I think this group is going to be really excited because we earned that,” Crosson said. “If we don’t make the tournament, there’s going to be some disappointment because I think they’re going to know they had shots again, like they did last year, to try and do that.”
Crosson, who is also Cal’s fourth coach in four years, is bringing a feeling of stability to the program, something he saw reflected in the team’s play last week against Davis.
In addition to serving tough float balls throughout the match — something Cal hasn’t typically focused on — and making smart high-ball decisions, the Bears transitioned between lineups and rotations relatively seamlessly.
“There wasn’t a lag factor,” Crosson explained.
As the Bears head into this weekend’s non-conference matchups against Oklahoma, Colorado State and Chicago State, they will need to bring that same sense of control and consistency. Without extended knowledge about their opponents in an opening weekend, Crosson is having the team focus more on themselves.
“If we can be good on our side of the net, then I like our chances against anyone,” Crosson said.
Cal’s ideal lineup is a 5-1 rotation, with junior Isabel Potter taking the setting reins, but they could also run sophomore Jade Blevins in a 6-2 with Potter. The Bears also have senior Maddie Haynes and junior Mima Mirkovic returning to the outside, senior Bailee Huizenga resuming her duties on the right side, and junior Preslie Anderson and redshirt junior Lauren Forte back in the middle. Redshirt senior Savannah Rennie can also be a valuable front-row tool for the Bears at the middle or right side slot.
Senior Emma Smith will likely see time as the team’s libero, although redshirt junior Kat Knop showed promise at the position last season.
Oklahoma, Colorado State and Chicago State are all strong programs, and Cal’s performance this weekend will be important in determining key areas of improvement going forward.
“We’re going to walk into the lion’s den and I want to find out, as this group wants to find out, where are we right now,” Crosson said. “Win, lose or draw, we just keep working and try to be one day better.”