Effort doesn’t always guarantee success.
Unfortunately for Cal volleyball, this means that its hustle on the court doesn’t always translate into wins. This past weekend, fans watched as the team fought valiantly against USC but was unable to bring a victory home, losing both Friday and Saturday’s matches 1-3.
“It was a tough loss because, I think, reflected in the scores too, you can see we were right there. We were really fighting,” said outside hitter Makana Meyer. “But I think more than anything, it kind of energized us for this second half of Pac-12.”
The Bears are now about halfway through their season, and as they head into the second half of conference play, they sit at the bottom of the Pac-12 alongside Arizona State with a 1-9 record. However, the team remains optimistic about the remainder of its season.
“The second half can really determine the trajectory your team’s going to take, and even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted this weekend, I think we’re going in the right direction as a team,” Meyer said.
Even though they lost, Meyer and middle blocker Lydia Grote had big showings over the weekend. Grote recorded 14 kills and a season-high six blocks Friday, while Meyer achieved a career-high 13 kills Saturday.
“There are some intangibles we really worked on this weekend, which might not be obvious to anyone but the people on the court and our whole team,” Meyer said.
It was also a good weekend for setter Isabel Potter, who recorded 34 assists Friday and a match-high 37 assists Saturday. She now sits in seventh on the Bears’ all-time career assists list with 2,609.
Ultimately, the team was unable to keep up with USC outside hitter Brooke Botkin, who got a match-high 22 kills Friday. Botkin was selected to the Pac-12 preseason all-conference team along with teammate Raquel Lazaro, who had a match-high 39 assists Friday.
This weekend, the blue and gold will travel to Pullman to face off against No. 17 Washington State on Friday and Sunday.
The Cougars had their match against Stanford canceled last weekend due to the Cardinal’s COVID-19 complications, and they are currently fourth in the Pac-12 after coming off of a straight 2-0 win against Colorado two weeks ago.
With a 6-2 record, Washington State will certainly be a challenge for Cal. But a common theme that the team has stressed throughout the season is to focus on factors within its control, as opposed to those outside it.
“It’s easy to get caught up in all of the off-court things, but our focus as a team has been to just bring it back to ourselves,” Meyer said. “We saw a lot of success this past weekend with this mentality of just minigames to 5. If you can break up a set of 25 points into five, it’s so much easier to feel like you just need to get the next point than win all 25 at once.”
Washington State boasts some big hitters, including middle blocker Magda Jehlarova, who was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the week of Jan. 25 to 31. But fans will note that as the season has progressed, the Bears have had major growth in their serve-receive game, with an increase in the number of digs and aces per match.
For Meyer, nailing those first contacts has been a focal point for the team.
“We’ve gotten a lot better at serving and getting our passing up there. USC was tough because they have some really great servers, so it was a battle for us passers, but we’ve been banking more reps and practice on that, and those live reps during games are unbeatable,” Meyer said. “There’s so much room to improve in those areas, and I do think those areas are going to be the ones that help us to produce more dubs.”
Even though the team has been focusing on “intangibles” such as communication and hustle, it’s also had improvement in more visible areas, as evidenced by its increasingly exciting rallies with each match. So although Cal is heading into the weekend at a disadvantage, fans can look forward to some exciting plays in the matches ahead.
“We had some incredible hustle play, some incredible rallies of everyone on the court going all out, and it was for each other,” Meyer said. “Not for a result or not for our record at the end of the year, it was for our seniors, for our freshmen and getting to have those experiences of just loving playing volleyball together.”
Amber Fang covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]