Cal earns first win against No. 23 Stanford in split-match weekend, looks to host USC

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Celine Bellegarda/Senior Staff

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The Cal-Stanford rivalry is so firmly entrenched in UC Berkeley’s history that some might say it’s a part of students’ identities. After November’s painstaking loss of the Axe, fans can likely appreciate victory in whatever form it comes in. After all, it’s the little things that count.

This past weekend, Cal volleyball fans were treated to an enthralling five-set match at Haas Pavilion, as the Bears beat the No. 23 Cardinal on Friday for the first time since 2011.

“Obviously it’s a huge deal, not only to beat our cross-town rival, but to do it for the first time since 2011, and in a gritty five-set match,” said outside hitter Katarina Pantovic. “It’s definitely a great feeling to have accomplished something like that.”

Pantovic, a freshman with only seven career collegiate matches under her belt, achieved the first double-double of her Cal career, leading the team with 15 kills to go alongside 12 digs Friday. She was followed closely by outside hitter Makana Meyer with 12 kills and middle blocker Bella Bergmark with 10 kills.

“Something that really paid off for us was our efforts on the court, our communication, execution, and just all the work we’ve been putting over the past few weeks,” Pantovic said.

After losing the first set 18-25, the Bears narrowly took the second set 25-23 following a block from Bergmark and a kill from Pantovic. In previous matches, this usually marked the point at which the young team would seemingly run out of steam for the rest of the match.

But last Friday, all the work the team has been doing seemed to pay off, as the blue and gold took an early lead in the third set, holding multiple six-point leads and ultimately winning it to the tune of 25-21.

“We’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on blocking and defense over the last few weeks and it’s definitely starting to pay off,” Pantovic said. “We stepped it up from the service line today.”

Coming into the weekend, Cal had only 12 aces spread across six matches. The team matched that number on Friday, led by senior setter Isabel Potter, who tallied five service aces. Potter also led the team with 33 assists and tacked on a match-high 23 digs for good measure. Libero Gabby Bellizzi wasn’t far behind, contributing 20 digs herself.

Nevertheless, as the defending national champion, Stanford didn’t go down without a fight Friday, taking the fourth set to tie the match at two sets apiece. Ultimately, however, the Bears prevailed in the match-deciding set, winning 15-12.

On Sunday, Cal traveled to Stanford for the second match of the series, but was unable to replicate the magic it found Friday night, falling in three sets.

“We’re starting all over again, and we know they have some big hitters on the other side but we just focus on our side, our game plan, and controlling what we can control,” Pantovic said.

Stanford outside hitter Kendall Kipp, who was named to the Preseason All-Pac-12 Team, scored a whopping 15 kills, in comparison to Pantovic, who tied Bergmark with a team-high 8 kills. The Cardinal scored an early lead in the first set and although the Bears fought hard to narrow the margin, they were unable to do so, losing 15-25. The rest of the match followed a similar pattern, as Stanford pulled ahead in each set and never looked back.

“I think (we need to work on) consistency. You know, staying strong the whole time, avoiding those ups and downs,” Pantovic said. “Just consistent effort throughout the match.”

Following its exciting split match weekend, Cal is set to host USC this upcoming weekend at Haas Pavilion. The Trojans are coming off two hard losses at the hands of No. 7 Utah, and currently sit at 1-5 overall. But armed with senior outside hitter Brooke Botkin and junior setter Raquel Lázaro, who were both named to the Preseason All-Conference team, and a .178 hitting percentage, they definitely have a chance to give the Bears fits.

By now though, fans should already know that the blue and gold place heavy emphasis on things within their own control and execution. As the halfway point of the season approaches, Cal has shown visible growth each week, and fans should continue to expect improvements with each match.

“Something that helps our performance on the court is just focusing on the present moment, the point we have ahead of us instead of focusing on what’s already happened or future points,” Pantovic said.

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