Even for a Division I athlete, playing weekly games can be tiring, to say the least.
With many NCAA sports finally back in full swing, Cal volleyball is scheduled to play a double match every weekend for 11 straight weeks. With little time to rest between matches, stamina will be key. This week, the team will hit the road to play Colorado in its fifth and sixth matches of the season after losing two matches against No. 8 Utah last weekend and No. 18 UCLA the weekend before.
For many newcomers on the team, this kind of schedule is more demanding than what they’re used to. But the program has been inactive for such a long time that the team is simply excited to play.
“I know that two matches in one weekend seems like a lot, … but being out of volleyball for so long, I’m just so excited to be able to do anything, really,” said middle blocker Bella Bergmark. “So even though it’s exhausting, I’ll take it, no questions asked. I know a lot of people on the team feel this way.”
The Bears, who have lost four straight matches by a combined score of 12 sets to two, head into this weekend’s match with some clear goals in mind. One of those goals is to be better at adapting quickly to long, unruly rallies.
“Something we are going to work on this week in practice before we head to Colorado is definitely shot decisions in kind of crazy situations,” Bergmark said. “Like, what can we do to put the ball on their side of the court in a way that’s still going to put pressure on them to be good when it’s not a perfect situation?”
In the matches against Utah, it was clear that the Utes’ experience gave them an advantage over the young Cal team. Long back-and-forth rallies often ended in the Utes finding the floor.
“That’s one of the things that our coach was telling us about that match that I think can be clearly seen is basically just smart attacks in situations where the conditions are much less than perfect,” Bergmark said.
Colorado is the first unranked team the Bears will face this season, but that doesn’t mean these two matches will be any less of a challenge: The Buffs are coming off of a weeklong break after winning both of their matches against Oregon State two weeks ago. They are one of two remaining unbeaten teams in the Pac-12, the other being Utah.
Part of the Buffs’ success in their opening matches of the season was due to their team hitting percentage: Colorado is hitting at 22% across seven sets, whereas Cal is hitting at 14% across 14 sets. Middle blocker Lydia Grote leads the Bears in both kills (32) and hitting percentage (30%). Outside hitter Katarina Pantovic is close behind with 30 kills but sat out of Sunday’s match due to injury. Pantovic’s ability to play in this weekend’s matches remains questionable.
In addition to smart shots, the team will focus on serve-receive this weekend.
“Our passers in the back row are going to work on passing next to outside hitters and just being more confident passing from the back row because I think that’s definitely something that we can improve on,” Bergmark said.
Even though the blue and gold lost to the Utes, they made visible improvements from their match against UCLA, especially in putting pressure on the Utes’ service line. Fans should hope to see continued improvement this weekend in the aforementioned areas, even with such a quick turnaround from match to match.
Amber Fang covers volleyball. Contact her at jasper[email protected].