There is an unquestionable difference in this year’s Cal beach volleyball team, and it’s apparent that this squad has made strides to better itself over the course of the preseason. Opening the year ranked No. 11, the added expectations that come with this recognition serve not to add pressure, but to fuel the Bears’ desire to prove themselves right.
Coming off of a 5-0 shutout of St. Mary’s last weekend, the Bears head into this weekend’s Bay Area Classic off the strength of a bounce-back performance that epitomizes the type of mental preparation they’ve emphasized ahead of the season.
“We deserve to win and go to the tournament because we put in all the hard work,” said junior Maddie Micheletti, who received a Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention last spring. It’s this type of confidence and poise that Cal hopes will drive it through the difficult competition that awaits.
This Saturday, the Bears take on teams that they’ve had success against in the past. Entering the matchups 4-0 against Utah and UC Davis in program history, the team seeks to replicate the success it had last year in defending its home sand. Having gone 6-0 last year at home, the Bears also need to secure victories over No. 19 Arizona State and Pacific on Saturday to maintain their perfect home record. The former also presents the opportunity for the Bears to secure their first ranked victory of the year, after being defeated by No. 14 GCU last weekend.
“Obviously, people aren’t sleeping on us anymore,” Micheletti said.
One gets the sense that this might be a reason for their defeat against Grand Canyon last weekend. It seemed as though the Bears might have gotten ahead of themselves, considering their emphatic turnaround against St. Mary’s. And while the Bears may have a target on their backs, this type of fiery competition is something they ensure that they’ve prepared for.
“We know we have a solid chance this year of going to the tournament. We have a difficult schedule, and we have the opportunity to beat all of these good teams. This is probably the best our team has looked,” Micheletti said.
Fortunately for the Bears, the schedule ahead of them is a great opportunity to test themselves against formidable competition, with 18 opponents ranked in the top AVCA preseason poll.
And while the schedule presents many opportunities for the Bears to test themselves against ranked competition, it’s equally important that the team maintains this competitive approach to the matches against unranked opponents as well.
“We definitely can’t just fly under the radar anymore, and we need to be the same way. We need to beat those teams ahead of us and below us,” Micheletti said.
If the Bears maintain this attitude throughout the season, their goals of reaching the Pac-12 tournament may draw nearer.
While each game is as important as the next, the Bears will likely have extra motivation in their second ranked match of the year, as they will face a Sun Devils squad that defeated the Bears in the Pac-12 tournament last year.
And if last weekend was any indication, then one can expect a battle on the Clark Kerr Sand Courts on Sunday. No longer will it be to prove something to their competition, but to prove to themselves that their confidence is warranted.
Sean Applegate covers beach volleyball. Contact him at