No. 11 Cal emerged with a record of 5-1 and made history with its fifth top-10 win in program history after traveling to UC Davis and Arizona for six matches.
Beginning last Tuesday, the Bears headed north to Davis, California, to compete against UC Davis and No. 6 Hawaii.
Cal was confronted with unique circumstances. With a prominent injured list and heavy winds present in Davis, the Bears faced a slew of challenges throughout their competition.
“The conditions were really windy on Tuesday at Davis and any time you play in those conditions the talent gap closes and that was where we saw a lot of upsets,” interim head coach Derek Olson said.
Despite the taxing conditions, Cal did not shy away from its competition and moved full force into its matches, beating Davis 3-2 and Hawaii 4-1.
Graduate transfer senior Katie Smoot and freshman Grace Paulson dominated Davis after splitting their first two matches 23-21 and 18-21. In their tiebreaking game, the duo secured the win with a score of 15-8, the last defeat of Davis for the day.
Later in the day, the Bears found themselves seeking redemption for their loss against Hawaii two years ago. In the first four matches, the Bears achieved a record breaking win and defeated their fifth top-10 team in program history.
“The team played very well and gutted out that win,” Olson said. “I think that is a big confidence boost.”
After Tuesday’s matches, the squad traveled down to Arizona where the Pac-12 South Tournament occurred Saturday and Sunday. In the Grand Canyon State, Cal went 3-1 against UCLA, Washington, Utah and Oregon, with its sole loss coming against the Bruins.
The No. 4 Bruins swept the Bears and won every set. While the rigor of UCLA was expected, Cal underestimated the skill and success that the Bruins displayed.
“In this sport, it is a full team effort. You have to have depth, and that is something UCLA has always had over us,” Olson said. “They have a lot of talent in their line up. We have to get healthy and we have to play to our potential.”
Cal bounced back against Washington after making notable lineup switches, such as changing the top spot from Ainsley Radell and Jordan Polo to partners Mima Mirkovic and Caroline Schafer. Similarly, Junior Francesca Gettings made her first appearance on the court Saturday, earning her first collegiate win against Washington.
“Wins and losses don’t change who we are as players or athletes or individuals,” Mirkovic said. “To get back up, we looked at the loss (against UCLA) and asked what we could do that was in our control to make sure that we don’t carry the feeling of losing into our next three matches.”
On Sunday, the Bears concluded the Pac-12 South Tournament with a fluid sweep of Oregon and Utah. Against both teams, Cal won 5-0.
Freshman Madison Sundholm won in her collegiate match debut and earned the win against the Ducks.
In the afternoon, Cal prevailed against Utah, holding the Utes to fewer points in the second game of each match than the first.
“It felt like we were back on track,” Mirkovic said. “It felt like we weren’t doing this for an individual, but we were doing it for the greater good of the program.”
The Bears are looking forward to more competitive experience as they head to Stanford on Saturday to battle it out against No. 5 Cal Poly and No. 18 Stanford.
Though the rivalries on Saturday will be intense, Cal fans are excited to see the team take multiple wins back to Berkeley.
Alisa Steel covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].