Cal volleyball takes two tough road matches

Maya Valluru/Staff

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After dropping three consecutive matches, No. 20 Cal volleyball responded with three straight wins. Cal’s most recent victories last weekend, over Arizona and Arizona State, brought the Bears to a 20-4 overall record, 10-4 in conference play. 

The Bears hit the road last week and first stopped at the Wildcats’ home, where they quickly swept Arizona 25-21, 25-21, 25-16.

As a team, Cal hit with over .400 efficiency in each set, with senior Maddie Haynes spearheading the offensive charge. Haynes tied a career-high 19 kills as she hit from the outside. The senior has transformed into one of the Bears’ best offensive options under the leadership of head coach Sam Crosson.

This weekend Crosson continued with a significant switch made last weekend, as he started sophomore Gabby Bellizzi at libero once again. Up until Cal’s match against Oregon, Bellizzi had exclusively been a defensive specialist, with senior Emma Smith donning the libero jersey.

But now, the roles have reversed, and the fireball that is Bellizzi led her team with 12 digs. Bellizzi’s energy was matched by the rest of her teammates, as the Bears propelled themselves past Arizona, whose offense was driven by Paige Whipple.

With no action from sophomore Jade Blevins, Isabel Potter was left in charge of running the team’s 5-1 lineup, and did so again in Sunday’s match against Arizona State.

After traveling just over a hundred miles north to Tempe, Cal was set to face Arizona State. But the Sun Devils were more prepared than their opponents. 

With Noa Miller and Callie Jones running its offense, ASU took the first set 25-18 without much hesitation. Cal only hit .094 in that opening set, but the Bears were eventually able to pull it together.

The Bears started the set with a small, but important run that would continue increasing their distance from the Sun Devils. ASU’s timeouts didn’t help ice Cal as the Bears pushed forward, hitting .424 on the set.

Keeping their energy through the break and back out on the court for the third set, the Bears notched a 25-20 win in the third set, making it look like the match would end in four. 

But the Sun Devils didn’t seem to think so.

Pushing the match to a fifth set, ASU poised itself to take the fourth. With only one shot left to keep themselves in the game, the Sun Devils took an early 11-3 lead in the fourth set. 

Slowly but surely, Cal cut the lead down. Although ASU held set point at 24-20, it wouldn’t be able to finish it right there. The Bears trudged forward, with key kills across the net — from Haynes and senior Bailee Huizenga, to junior Mima Mirkovic. 

Cal tied things up at 24-24, then again at 25-25. But a kill from Megan Beedie and a setting error called on Potter gave the Sun Devils the set 27-25. 

Bringing the passion from the fourth set into the fifth, Cal served competitively, hit aggressively and defended the floor consistently. The Bears’ serving, too, contributed to giving the away team an edge as Cal finished the match with a 15-12 fifth-set win.

Cal’s wins this weekend put the team back in second place in the Pac-12, tied with three other programs’ conference records. It also put Cal at 20 wins on the season, the most since 2011.

Although the Bears conquered Tempe to Tuscon, they still have more challenges waiting ahead.

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