No. 16 Cal conquers Oregon territory with 2 sweeps

Maya Valluru/Staff

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Somewhere between the Cascade Range, Crater Lake and Mother Nature’s finest landscapes are two universities with strong volleyball programs. Yet these two schools — Oregon State and Oregon — weren’t with the elements this weekend. Instead, Cal volleyball’s Bears claimed the Oregon territory as their own with a pair of consecutive sweeps.

Taking both matches 3-0, Cal improved to 13-1 on the season and a 3-1 conference record that places the Bears atop the Pac-12 standings and ranked No. 16 in the nation.

Cal kick-started its weekend away from home in Corvallis, playing Oregon State. The Beavers were coming off a pristine opening weekend but they wouldn’t be able to maintain that clean conference record.

Although OSU held a 17-12 lead over the Bears in the first set, repeated hitting errors on the Beavers’ side of the net brought Cal back to being neck and neck with OSU. From there, Cal’s Savannah Rennie notched consecutive kills out of the right side. Rennie continued proving to be an invaluable utility hitter, playing at both the middle and right side slots this season, depending on Cal’s rotation.

Continuing to run a 6-2 in the second and third sets, the Bears stuck to the grind and remained consistent in their offensive and defensive efforts to quickly pull away with the 3-0 win. The Bears outhit the Beavers .250 to a meager .058 and topped their opponents by 10 digs.

Although Cal’s nonconference play primarily featured junior Isabel Potter running the Bears’ 5-1 lineup, since Pac-12 play started last week, the Cal coaching staff has heavily favored a 6-2 with sophomore Jade Blevins worked into the lineup.

“Where we were, we needed a bigger presence at the net in terms of a blocking perspective,” explained Cal head coach Sam Crosson.

Having a taller trio at the net was important in holding Oregon to a .135 hitting percentage, the Ducks’ second-worst this season. Even Oregon’s veteran standout Ronika Stone had a season-low five kills.

“She’s an All-American,” Crosson said. “She’s an elite attacker.”

The only potential downside from the Bears’ lineup is a lack of rhythm from having two setters instead of one.

But Blevins’ performances continued to shine right alongside Potter’s, giving no real reason for Cal to deviate from its plan. Blevins led the team in assists (17) against OSU and continued to orchestrate a balanced offense in Cal’s match against Oregon with her 18 assists.

“Jade had a really good weekend in terms of knowing what to do and when to do it,” Crosson said.

Although the relatively smaller attack team struggled to get points against a dominating Stanford defense last week, Blevins and Potter were both critical in spreading out the Cal offense to allow the Bears a little less defensive pressure. Cal hit a respectable .269 in its game against Oregon, and the Ducks only tallied six block attempts — the lowest of its season.

“The match against Oregon was the first, at least for me, where all the pieces were operating together,” Crosson said.

As Cal headed out of Eugene, the trees may have appeared just a little taller, the air a little crisper and the sun a little brighter to the Bears. It was, after all, their first pair of sweeps in Oregon since 2011.

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