No. 16 Cal volleyball finds its own power, blows past ASU, Arizona

Karen Chow/Senior Staff

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Many were affected by the PG&E power outages last week, but Cal volleyball seemed to create light this weekend. Although very little about their week went according to schedule, the No. 16 Bears took another two sweeps over Arizona State and Arizona to improve to 15-1.

Cal was scheduled for home matches Friday and Sunday, but the weekend wouldn’t go according to plan. Because of the ambiguous power situation in Berkeley from Wednesday to Friday, the match against ASU was relocated to Stanford’s Maples Pavilion.

With power restored to campus Friday afternoon, the Sunday match went unaffected — if anything, it may have caused a few more fans to come out to the Bears’ match against Arizona.

Although Maples Pavilion is just over an hour from Haas Pavilion, the atmosphere felt far different from home. With only 211 in attendance, the Stanford logo sprawled across the center of the court and tunes from the Cal band coming out of speakers rather than directly out of instruments, it was — unquestionably — not a home match.

“It’s been something this group has really taken on since the start of the season — to not have preconceived notions and expectations of what you think is going to happen,” said Cal head coach Sam Crosson. “Just be in the moment and go play. Trust your IQ and trust the people around you.”

The trust between each other was visible on the court, despite being forced into a new lineup. With neither setter Jade Blevins nor hitter Savannah Rennie medically cleared to play, Cal was given no choice but to adapt to a 5-1 lineup that they hadn’t run before.

Although the Bears started the first set off neck-and-neck with the Sun Devils, they were able to transform a one-point lead into a six-point advantage with junior Mima Mirkovic at the service line. Cal cashed that advantage in, taking the first set 25-20.

“I think just flexing into a new lineup and trying to figure out how we’re going to handle being in a two-hitter versus being in a three-hitter all the time — we needed those first few points to get comfortable and to settle in,” Mirkovic said. “We knew that our best was better than their best.”

Indeed, the Bears repeated that performance in the second set with a second 25-20 win. In the third, Cal managed to get off to a quicker start thanks to a consistent passing game. A near-perfect serve receive allowed setter Isabel Potter to run all options across the net, and middle blocker Lauren Forte benefited, earning a career-high 14 kills.

Forte finished the match, earning the final point of a 25-19 third set with the final kill of the night.

“That connection between our setters is what we’ve been working on in practice, just trying to get tempos and height down,” Forte said. “We’re both more confident, in the middles and the setters. We’re more confident in each other. We can be set when it’s not a perfect pass.”

Cal continued utilizing its middles as the team came back to Haas for its match against Arizona. The lights were all on, but that didn’t stop the Bears bringing their own power.

The Wildcats, coming off a 3-0 loss to Stanford, were not going to let another match get by them without a fight. With setter Julia Patterson’s quick dumps bringing the team some extra energy, Arizona kept a small but significant lead for much of the first set.

But with the teams tied 20-20, Cal turned on its extra generator. A missed serve from Arizona at 23-23 gave the Bears the set point that they capitalized on with a set-winning kill from Mirkovic.

The second and third sets saw the pendulum swing into Cal territory, but the Wildcats continued to visibly challenge the Bears with their big blocks and scrappy defense. Forte and fellow middle Preslie Anderson were, once again, critical forces in earning Cal’s 3-0 win.

“It’s not very often that you see teams utilize their middles as much as we do,” Mirkovic said. “It’s really important that we get them in the game because once we get them involved, it opens up the pins for our pin attackers.”

Fortunately, the only sparks that flew last week were on the courts that Cal volleyball touched. The Bears’ two sweeps this weekend leave the program with its best record in nearly a decade, bringing welcome light to a few darker years of Cal volleyball.

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