Cal volleyball returns home 8-0 for 1st time since 2011

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Cal volleyball sure did go far this weekend in Fargo, North Dakota, where the Bears added two more tallies to their win column. On Friday, Cal, which is now 8-0, took its wins in matches against Buffalo, 3-0, and North Dakota State, 3-1.

“They’re starting to see the hard work and sacrifice that they put in paying some dividends,” said Cal head coach Sam Crosson. “They’re starting to turn the page in terms of what they think is possible — that is the exciting part.”

Crosson was quick to acknowledge, though, that the eight wins are “still only eight matches.” The road ahead will be grueling, and the teams the Bears face in conference play will undoubtedly be of higher caliber. Yet each match and each win carries significance in itself.

The Bears secured their first set against Buffalo with a fairly decisive 25-18 win, but they wouldn’t stop there for the second set.

Although Cal has yet to play in its own home, the Bears’ second-set performance made it look like the court belonged to them. With notable serving all around, Cal took a quick 25-7 second-set victory.

“Buffalo did become a little more predictable in their offense. Our ball control and first contacts helped us,” Crosson said. “We were in a good rhythm throughout the set, and that’s just the team realizing what kind of level of volleyball they can play.”

The Bulls’ Kristina Nieves served as Buffalo’s main offensive asset, with five kills on her 10 attacks. Her more inconsistent teammates prevented the Bulls from ever finishing on top, but the team did push the Bears to the end, ultimately falling 27-25.

With Cal junior Mima Mirkovic leading the team with 14 kills and sophomore Jade Blevins notching three aces on 21 serves over the duration of the match, the Bears highlighted their ability to perform with both strength and consistency.

Later that same day, but now with more than 1,000 people in Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse, Cal took on host North Dakota State, which hadn’t played since the weekend before. Eager to upset the Cal favorites in front of their home crowd, the Bison ended a nail-biting first set 27-25 with two consecutive kills by NDSU’s Alexis Bachmeier to finish it out.

“A lot of balls that North Dakota State was hitting or tipping or strategically placing at times, we were not very effective or efficient with in terms of our communication, in terms of our energy,” Crosson said. “We got worked by North Dakota State defensively.”

Despite the hard start, Cal wasn’t ready to tarnish its pristine record and leave Fargo 1-1. The Bears made some changes in the second set, including better communication on the floor, especially with respect to defense, and altered their offensive structure.

“They were very calm and intense at the same time,” Crosson said.

Just after opening the second set, senior Emma Smith took the serving reins. As she served eight consecutive balls, Mirkovic notched three kills.

The Bears were able to maintain their strong 9-1 start, taking the second set 25-17. Cal’s balanced offensive approach — with all six hitters scoring seven or more kills each — and serving pressured North Dakota State, allowing the Bears to wrap up the match with the next two sets ending 25-22, 25-16.

On top of coming away with two wins, Mirkovic and redshirt senior Savannah Rennie were also named to the NDSU Classic all-tournament team.

“At the moment, it’s nice to stop and take a look at where we’re at, but at the same time, the staff, the players and myself are trying to figure out ways we need to improve,” Crosson said.

Cal hasn’t started the season 8-0 since 2011. Even if the Bears’ schedule has been less rigorous this year than in the past, their individual and team performances have been commendable. After playing in a long string of road matches, the Bears will spend the next few weeks in the Bay, where many teams are eager to test Cal and its pristine record.

Surina Khurana covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @surina_k.