Cal falls short against Arizona, set to play final away game in Oregon

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Everyone loves a good underdog story. We can’t help but root for the little guy to make it out on top. But the unfortunate reality is that the little guy often loses.

Cal volleyball went into the season an underdog, and as the end of the season approaches, it looks like that’s what the team will remain despite its best efforts.

“Most of this season, especially towards the end here, we’re really just using all of the games and practices as a learning experience,” said setter Isabel Potter. “We’ve certainly improved in some areas, and still have areas that we are still working on. I know that we’ve been losing and we don’t have the best record but we are still learning and I think that’s huge for our team that we have that learning mentality.”

Last weekend saw the Bears lose both matches against the Arizona Wildcats in three sets. But for those who have been watching the team grow throughout the season, it was pretty clear that the blue and gold have made vast improvements both defensively and offensively.

Middle blocker Lydia Grote earned match-high kills on both Friday and Sunday, finding the floor nine and 14 times respectively. Libero Tara DeSa managed to dig a career-high 17 balls Sunday, just one short of Arizona’s Kamaile Hiapo, who dug a match-high 18 balls.

“One thing we’re always focusing on is serving and passing, because serving and passing will win you a game. And it might not be the most glorious aspect of the game, but it’s certainly extremely important,” Potter said. “I certainly believe that, especially last weekend against Arizona, our defense has been much better. We’re scrappier, and we have more of a relentless mentality in just not letting that ball hit the floor.”

This mentality is definitely reflected in the score. Cal, especially last weekend, has shown great effort in fighting back, even if the team has ultimately fallen short in most cases. After losing the first set Sunday 18-25, the Bears faced a 12-6 deficit in the second. The blue and gold evened the score at 24-24, but were unable to close, as the Wildcats scored the final two points to take the set. Similarly, Cal clawed away an early deficit in the third set to push the score to 23-24, but a final kill from Arizona outside hitter Jaelyn Hodge sealed the Bears’ loss.

Moving forward, the blue and gold are reaching the end of their season, with only two games left. Next weekend, the team will play its final away game, which will be Potter’s last away game as a Bear.

“It’s certainly bittersweet, but I’ve just had the most amazing experience and I’m just so grateful to my entire team and all of our coaches,” Potter said.

This upcoming weekend, Cal is traveling up to Oregon, where the Bears are slated to play the third-ranked team in the Pac-12. First serve is set for Friday 1 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m.

The Ducks are flying off a massive weekend sweep against their in-state rival, the Oregon State Beavers. Oregon has an impressive arsenal of hitters at its disposal, including Brooke Nuneviller. Earlier this season, Nuneviller became the first player to ever earn the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week awards in the same week.

Needless to say, Cal is going to need to put up a fight. But as per usual, the Bears are keeping in line with their mantra, “one day better,” by focusing on themselves and their own execution before worrying about other teams.

“One thing that we’re just focusing on going into every weekend and this weekend as well is just everyone doing their job. When everyone does their job at a high level, the rest will take care of itself, the scoreboard will take care of itself,” Potter said. And so when everyone is able to execute and just do our jobs personally, then games will go well.”

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