Ask anyone what they think is most important in a relationship, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one singular answer. Characteristics such as trust, honesty and respect are just a few of the many possible responses, but among the most common would certainly be communication and connection. Chemistry brings people together, and communication keeps them there.
Sports teams are no exception. Team dynamics are important, and a lack of connection and communication will often lead teams to lose, no matter how talented individual players are.
Last weekend, Cal volleyball got to play its first match in more than a year. And while it lost both matches, the team, which is composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores, displayed great chemistry on the court.
“Throughout the matches, we noticed that our energy on the court was really good; interactions between players on and off the court were super positive and efficient,” said outside hitter Katarina Pantovic. “For a fairly new team playing together for the first time, having good team chemistry is super important, and I think that we have that right off the bat, and we’re carrying it on into practice.”
Late last year, senior setter Isabel Potter revealed that although much of the team was scattered around the globe, players prioritized staying in touch, with weekly Zoom meetings and other forms of communication. For Pantovic, these activities were crucial in making the team dynamic what it is.
“We would talk about books, movies — that really helped the mental side of the game and obviously the team chemistry as well,” Pantovic said. “We were all just keeping in touch consistently, so I think that really helped.”
Going forward, Cal will host No. 8 Utah at Haas Pavilion on Friday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at noon. The team will play two matches per week for the rest of the season, which ends the first week of April, something Pantovic and other newcomers are still adjusting to.
“In Canada, we wouldn’t really have games every weekend for 12 consecutive weekends, so that’s kind of an adjustment for me, but I’m keeping my nutrition in check and sleep schedule and trying to stay organized,” Pantovic said.
Although the team is experiencing a quick turnaround from last week’s matches, playing UCLA helped the Bears identify key areas to focus and work on.
“A lot of us hadn’t had a lot of court experience in the past, so this weekend was very eye-opening,” Pantovic said. “Now that we have those first couple of matches out of the way, we’re getting more into the flow of things, and we know what we need to work on, so we’re just really excited going into this next match against Utah.”
The Utes were voted preseason favorites to win the Pac-12, and so far, they seem to be living up to that standard. Utah travels to Berkeley off the back of a double win against Arizona last weekend and outside hitter Dani Drews being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.
Playing such a strong team is certainly going to be a challenge for the Bears, but as Pantovic and head coach Sam Crosson explained, the team is focusing heavily on factors within its control.
“We’re just focusing on keeping things simple, slowing the ball down when it’s on our side and focusing on the things that we can control, like serving and attacking decisions,” Pantovic said.
But if last week was any indication of how this weekend will play out, Cal fans can expect the Bears to step up to the challenge with some exciting plays, win or lose.
Amber Fang covers volleyball. Contact her at jasper[email protected].