Cal beach volleyball heads south in high spirits

Lisi Ludwig/Staff

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A weekend in Los Angeles sounds like a vacation for most, but for the Cal beach volleyball team, it’s all business heading into Southern California. After sweeping the competition in the Bay Area Classic, the squad heads into this weekend’s Pac-12 South Tournament with only one thing on its mind: to move up in the rankings and put the rest of the conference on notice.

Rather than celebrate a moment in which the team has won five straight matches in sweeps, however, the players and coaches all seek to head into these matches maintaining a level-headed mentality.

This tournament serves as the perfect opportunity to show just how good they can be, as some highly ranked competition awaits them. The Bears will approach Saturday’s matches with a sense of continuity in order to propel them through the road slate in matchups against unranked competition in Washington and Oregon.

While the team will never admit to approaching any game differently than the next, one can’t help but notice the anticipation leading up to Sunday’s matches against Arizona State and No. 5 USC. With the blue and gold’s dominance over their last five matches, the USC matchup serves as a chance to prove that their success is no fluke.

With four games slated on the weekend’s schedule, acting head coach Derek Olson views the weekend as a game of “four quarters.” With this approach, an emphasis is placed on remaining even-keeled through a busy weekend and viewing each game to be equally important to the team. The four-quarter affair presents a challenge for the team’s focus as each game relies on the team being consistently good.

“I think just mentally taking it one game at a time and not thinking about how many matches we have to play will benefit us,” said junior Maddie Micheletti.

It’s apparent that the players and coaches all have a clear goal in mind, and that starts with focusing on their preparation. With the team’s last five matches, there is no doubt that continued excellence hinges on its ability to focus on the process of playing good ball rather than winning. Along with this comes the team’s self-asserting qualities that have displayed both in its play and in interviews.

The pairing of senior Madison Dueck and junior Alexia Inman earned recognition for their continued excellence, receiving Pac-12 Pair of the Week honors after finding motivation by playing for each other. The pairing delivered a 4-0 performance at the Bay Area Classic, moving its all-time record up to 25-4.

After last weekend’s matchups and Olson’s praise for the pairing, other teams may view their matchups against Dueck and Inman as an opportunity to spoil the fun. While that may be true, the Bears continue to maintain a self-assuredness that allows them to thrive under the pressure of being viewed as the “hunted.”

For Olson, maintaining a sense of intention is key for the team’s success heading into the Pac-12 South Tournament and in the face of the tougher competition that awaits. As last weekend’s performance showed, there is no doubting how good the Bears can be when they are at their best. Having made quick work of each of its matchups, the team aims to display the same sense of continuity and belief in preparation ahead of the weekend.

While many of the players will likely be excited to return home to Southern California for the weekend, that excitement pales in comparison to their anticipation to get back on the sand.

Sean Applegate covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].