Bears prepare to say goodbye as final match approaches

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Going into this season, Cal volleyball head coach Sam Crosson expected a hefty learning curve from his players. With freshmen and sophomores making up more than half of the team’s roster and unusual circumstances surrounding this year’s season, there was a lot of learning to be done and experience to be gained. Both Crosson and the team most likely hoped for a quicker climb over the curve, but things don’t always go according to plan.

Last weekend, the Bears flew up to Oregon for their final road contest of the season. And while they fought hard, they were no match for the Ducks, who are currently ranked No. 16 in the nation and No. 2 in the Pac-12.

Cal lost both games in three frames, unable to score more than 19 points per set in either match.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Freshman middle blocker Lydia Grote led Friday’s match with 13 kills, and setter Kendall Jensen posted a match-high 22 assists. With senior setter Isabel Potter approaching the end of her Cal volleyball career, Jensen has been getting more court time in an effort to get further experience under her belt.

On Sunday, middle blocker Bella Bergmark had an impressive hitting percentage, finding the floor seven out of 11 times. Outside hitters Katarina Pantovic and Makana Meyer also recorded seven kills apiece. But ultimately, Cal was unable to overtake Oregon — the Ducks’ junior outside hitter Brooke Nuneviller, the first player to ever win Pac-12 Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week in the same week, led Sunday’s match with 13 kills and 12 digs.

Freshman libero Tara DeSa, who dug a career-high 17 balls in the Bears’ match against Arizona on March 21, continued her recent surge. She led the team with 11 digs Friday, following that up with a match-high 15 digs Sunday. DeSa highlights the team’s efforts to improve its serve receive and underscores its belief that serve and pass is the most important aspect of the game.

“One of our coaches always says, ‘Volleyball is all about serve and pass. The rest is just for the fans,’ because serving and passing will win you a game,” Potter said.

This weekend, the blue and gold are hosting their final series of the season at Haas Pavilion on Thursday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m. They will be facing No. 7 Washington, who also happen to be sitting atop the Pac-12.

The Huskies are coming off a 2-0 series sweep against Stanford, and they boast an impressive roster of both hitters and defensive specialists.

“Whether we’re home or away, we treat it the same. It’s just us putting on our jerseys, and we’re going to go play whoever is out in front of us and do our best to manage what we can on our side of the net and to push our opponent,” Potter said. “I don’t think it’s anything different just because it’s whoever we’re playing. It’s just focusing on ourselves, getting better and having fun.”

This weekend will also be bittersweet for both players and fans. The Bears are preparing to say goodbye to two of their seniors, Potter and libero Jessica Houghton. Potter will be finishing up her time at Cal as seventh in career assists.

“It’s certainly bittersweet because I’m excited for the next adventure of life, but at the same time, I’m going to miss our team and playing for our coaches and for all my teammates,” Potter said.

While Washington will be a tough opponent for the Bears in Berkeley, fans should tune in for Cal’s final game of the season as the team bids Potter and Houghton farewell.

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