After cruising through the season with just a few losses and loads of confidence, the No. 9 Cal reached a speed bump in its season after losing to both No. 12 Stanford and No. 5 Cal Poly this past weekend.
The Bears battled it out and kept both competitions close. While Cal fell in both matches by a score of 3-2, the Bears fought for each point with grit and aggression.
During warmups on the Stanford beach volleyball courts before Cal’s match against Cal Poly, freshman Maya Gessner injured herself. Pushing through the pain, Gessner and sophomore Kate Bierly, her partner, began playing the first set of the day before forfeiting the match due to Gessner’s injury.
This unexpected loss set the tone for the next match in which sophomore Ainsley Radell and junior Jordan Polo lost 2-1. The Bears looked hopeless until seniors Mima Mirkovic and Caroline Schafer hopped on the court.
With two team losses in the scorebook, Mirkovic and Schafer came together, accepted the competitive challenge and dominated on the court.
“After we had a little bit of a chaotic start to our tournament, Mima and I came together as a pair,” Schafer commented. “We could only control our game — our tone — and we wanted to set the tone for our day and thought hopefully that would translate to the whole team. We went in with the feeling of nothing to lose.”
Freshmen Brooke Buchner and Ava Mann followed in their teammates’ footsteps and earned another win in their match against Cal Poly.
But ultimately, the Mustangs were too much for the Bears, as Cal Poly won the fifth match of the day to win the matchup 3-2.
In the afternoon, the blue and gold took on their rival, the Cardinal. Stanford’s home-court advantage certainly played a role in the matchup, as it beat Cal in five matches.
The Cardinal and the Bears traded off wins until the final match between Cal duo Mirkovic and Schafer and Stanford duo Charlie Ekstrom and Sunny Villapando. In this top spot match, Stanford dominated the sets 21-14, 30-28.
While unexpected, these two defeats are in part due to a long injury list made up of some of Cal’s best players.
“I am very confident in our full starting lineup,” Schafer said. “I think if we had the lineup that we intended going into both matches, we would have handled those teams not easily but we would have come out as winners.”
While the weekend was not indicative of the Bears’ potential, Cal redeemed itself Tuesday, April 6 in its match against Saint Mary’s in Moraga and will continue a winning streak this weekend in a tournament hosted by Arizona State at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
In Phoenix, Cal is expected to play USC on Saturday morning, followed by an afternoon match against Arizona State. On Sunday, the Bears will return to the sand against Arizona at 10:15 a.m. and then against Stanford at 3:15 p.m.
The team foresees itself avenging its loss to Stanford this past weekend and sweeping the rest of the competition in the tournament.
“We decided that we will take these two losses and put a chip on our shoulder,” Schafer said. “We will play with fight and fire and grit, and we will come out and prove to everyone that we are Cal beach volleyball and we have what it takes to beat big teams.”
The Bears are ready to see the fruits of their labor in the upcoming matches, while Cal fans should look forward to seeing their Bears play some of their best matches of an already successful season.
Alisa Steel covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].