A former sports editor of The Daily Californian once said that the worst thing a Cal fan can have is hope. Fans of any Cal sport can resonate with these words. If they don’t stay grounded this season, Cal volleyball fans will likely never forget to remain levelheaded in the future.
The volleyball program got off to a 17-1 start on the season, not dropping a single match through the Bears’ nonconference portion and making itself a clear contender for the Pac-12 title. Although the players have stressed through their success that they’ve remained planted in the present, it’s unlikely that Cal fans have done the same.
When a Cal program that hasn’t been a major force in the Pac-12, let alone the NCAA, begins a season such as the current volleyball squad did, fans begin forming expectations. They begin to hope to see their team win a conference title, defeat the Cardinal, make a run in the NCAA tournament or even just make the tournament.
Looking at Cal volleyball’s 18-4 record now, such commentary may not make all that much sense. It’s not an awful record by any means. But after the Bears returned home to suffer their third consecutive loss, this time to Oregon, one has to wonder if this team is truly capable of what Cal fans once hoped for just a few weeks ago.
Cal sophomore libero Gabby Bellizzi believes so.
“We need more communication and more energy because skill, tactically wise, we are at the top of everyone,” Bellizzi, who recorded a season-high 11 digs in her first career libero appearance, said. “In NCAA Division I, we are there with the gifted talent.”
Oregon’s Ronika Stone and Abby Hansen also have that gifted talent — theirs showed Friday night as both Ducks recorded hitting percentages above .500. But going against big hitters doesn’t phase Bellizzi and her teammates.
“It’s nothing super new because of our hitters,” Bellizzi said. “All of us dig against Preslie, Lauren, Mima, Bailee. It’s all the same, in my opinion. If we were just more diligent to the game plan that we had set on those offensive players, we probably would’ve executed a little more, point and set wise.”
Although the Bears fell to the Ducks in a close 3-1 battle Friday night, they managed a resilient return to the court less than 24 hours later. Hosting Oregon State on Saturday night, the Bears came out of the gates ready to compete. And they did.
Finding the energy and dedication that Bellizzi believed was missing Friday night, the Bears took a set and then dropped one, but followed it with two wins as opposed to their last three matches.
“It’s whether we decide to push ourselves and get one day better, and go the extra mile and not let go of the little things,” Bellizzi said. “Sometimes we take for granted the little things, but honestly, I think those are the most important for us because the little things make big things.”
Cal volleyball’s win over Oregon State all but ensures that the team won’t see the same downfall that Cal football has. Although they ran into some tough battles, the Bears have the ability to climb upward and onward. But hope? Still, maybe stay clear.
The Bears face a stout duo in Arizona and Arizona State at 6 p.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Sunday, respectively. Both matches will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.