Cal volleyball makes mistakes. The Bears will occasionally free ball third touches over. They’ve called serves out that were well within the court. Sometimes, they double. Yet, for the last 10 matches, and the entirety of Cal’s nonconference play, the Bears have managed to outdo their mistakes as well as their opponents’ accomplishments.
No. 21 Cal volleyball wrapped up its nonconference slate with back-to-back wins against Saint Mary’s. After defeating the Gaels 3-0 in the Bears’ Thursday home opener, Cal kept its energy flowing in Moraga, notching a 3-1 win over Saint Mary’s.
With the Bears’ two wins last week, Cal improves to a perfect 10-0 in the season and is one of two remaining undefeated teams in the nation.
Though the Bears would come out with one win, and then another, Cal struggled early in its first match against Saint Mary’s. After a Cal missed serve, a kill from the Gaels’ freshman standout Elena Baka, and consecutive shanked passes on serve receive, the Bears were down 5-1.
“I think we just had to get settled in,” said junior Preslie Anderson, who totaled 11 kills without a single error. “Saint Mary’s, we knew, was going to give us a battle so it was just figuring out the serve and pass game.”
Adapting to the tough serves, Cal began to find its groove. A big block by redshirt senior Savannah Rennie and junior Mima Mirkovic, along with a string of strong serves from senior Maddie Haynes, set the tone for the rest of the game.Although the Bears didn’t hit that efficiently in the first set (.156), they held the Gaels to -.029. Baka was the only player on the Saint Mary’s team to finish the set with a positive hitting percentage, meaning all her teammates had an equal number of errors to kills, if not more.
After finishing the first set 25-21, the Bears went on to push past the Gaels for another 25-21 win, but this one felt more definitive. Mirkovic added 4 kills, Haynes served another 7 balls — including an ace — and junior Isabel Potter posted 13 more assists.
Cal head coach Sam Crosson was able to mix things up in the second set as well, allowing middle blocker Lauren Forte some time at the net and giving sophomore Jade Blevins some setting action.
“The great part about being on this program is that we have 18 people that can go in and honestly play anywhere at any given time,” Anderson said. “It’s so awesome to have that versatility … We know we have that confidence in each other and within ourselves.”
One particular lineup switch from the second set left the team hyped.
“We joke sometimes in practice that (outside hitter Bailee Huizenga) has really good hands,” Haynes said. “And she’s always like ‘I wanna be a setter. I wanna be a setter.’”
At one point, Crosson subbed outside hitter Sydney Lilomaiava in for Potter, who was running Cal’s 5-1 rotation. Without the Bears’ main setters, Blevins and Potter, on the court, Huizenga was left in charge of the second ball.
“All of us were like all right — let’s go,” Haynes said. “We had full confidence.”
A long back-and-forth rally ended with Huizenga setting Haynes outside for the kill. Haynes was proud of that swing, more so because she got her teammate an assist than because of her own kill.
“I was like ‘Money.’ These people don’t even know what’s coming at them — it’s great,” Haynes said.
Coming out of the match break into the third set, the Bears continued showing improvement across all facets of the game. As the team’s libero, senior Emma Smith played scrappy defense alongside Mirkovic, and Potter’s role at the service line was also critical in Cal’s 25-14 win.
Less than 48 hours later, the Bears followed their own footsteps, with their 3-1 win over the Gaels in McKeon Pavilion. Although Cal dropped the third set, the Bears still played competitive volleyball.
Notable changes between the two Saint Mary’s matches included a much improved offensive performance from Rennie and Kat Knop’s 16 digs as the team’s libero on Saturday. Although Smith has been the default libero this season, she and Knop shared the spot at times last season and Knop’s Saturday performance indicates that could hold true in the future.
Haynes continued to be a powerful force from the outside, posting a season-high 17 kills in the Bears’ win.
“We take breaths,” Haynes said. “We focus on the here and now, not the past. We always say ‘next ball mentality.’”