Cal volleyball takes 1 set, drops both matches to No. 8 Utah

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Learning is a crucial part of life. Unfortunately for most of us, we weren’t born perfect, and over the years, as mistakes are made, learning and growth take place.

For the women of Cal volleyball, learning is a key component of their program. Their motto is “One day better,” and the team places a large emphasis on improving with each match.

“Ultimately, it’s like, what did you learn from today’s match and this weekend’s match, and did you improve on something,” said redshirt sophomore and middle blocker Bella Bergmark. “As long as everyone’s learning about what they’re doing right now and as long as they feel like they’ve improved in some area, then that’s a huge positive.”

Last weekend, the team hosted its first game at Haas Pavilion in more than a year. It played No. 8 Utah in a series of two matches Friday and Sunday, losing 1-3 and 0-3, respectively.

Following a similar pattern to the previous weekend, during which the Bears played the No. 22 Bruins, the blue and gold took the second set in their first match 25-23 before ultimately dropping both matches to the Utes.

“A lot of us have a lot of reflection to do about the matches this weekend in terms of execution,” Bergmark said. “We have a lot of growth to do together.”

On Friday, after falling into deficits early on in each set, Cal fought hard to bring the score back up but ultimately was unable to do so. After winning the second set, the Bears seemed to run out of steam, dropping the third set 16-25 and the final set 11-25.

Bergmark, who led the team with seven blocks Friday, played a large role in getting the team its second-set win. But Utah outside hitters Dani Drews and Kenzie Koerber were practically unstoppable, continuously finding the floor despite Cal’s best efforts. Drews, who last week was named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week, got an astounding 17 kills Friday and 15 on Sunday. Koerber, meanwhile, tacked on 13 kills Friday and nine on Sunday.

Throughout the matches, the Utes’ experience shined through, as their strategic placement of the ball helped them pick their spots and find the floor over and over again. Utah setter Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres tallied a whopping 42 assists Friday and 34 more Sunday, in comparison to Cal setter Isabel Potter, who had 14 and 24, respectively.

Two of the Bears’ upperclassman hitters, Mima Mirkovic and Katie Smoot, have chosen to play for the beach volleyball team this season. And while the blue and gold weren’t able to get as many kills as they did playing UCLA, they still got a sizable amount. Junior hitter Makana Meyer got seven kills Friday and eight on Sunday. Freshman Lydia Grote led the team with nine kills Friday, and opposite hitters Sydney Lilomaiava and Sam Taumoepeau poured in eight kills apiece Sunday.

Outside hitter Katarina Pantovic, who led the team in kills last weekend, garnered six kills Friday but sat out of Sunday’s game due to an injury. Her condition will be updated on a day-by-day basis.

Fans should bear in mind that this team is relatively young and inexperienced, and as the season progresses, it is likely that the Bears will continue to learn and grow from their mistakes.

Even after only one match, the team has seemingly already made vast improvements and stuck to getting “one day better.”

“After our matches against UCLA, we had a lot of missed serves. We tried to serve tough, but the execution wasn’t always there,” Bergmark said. “After that, we spent a lot of time focusing on serving really tough in pressed situations, and I think we did a really good job with that this weekend.”

This weekend, the Bears will hope to continue improving as they travel to Boulder, Colorado, to take on the Buffaloes.

Amber Fang covers volleyball. Contact her at jasper[email protected].