End of an era: Graduating Bears receive senior send-off

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All good things must come to an end. This weekend, setter Isabel Potter and libero Jessica Houghton said their goodbyes as Cal volleyball hosted its final matches of the season.

“It’s always sad when you see your seniors graduate, especially Jess Houghton and Isabel Potter — they’re really really great role models for our team, they’re both our team captains and they’re just really great people,” said middle blocker Bella Bergmark.

The team held its final series against No. 7 Washington, the 2020-21 Pac-12 champion. While it would have been nice to end with a bang, the Bears held their heads high despite losing both matches in 0-3 sweeps.

“There were a lot of times throughout both of those matches where we were very close until the momentum was lost,” Bergmark said. “But those games were really helpful for our team, especially for our younger players to realize that we have the potential to compete with anyone in the Pac-12.”

Six Huskies have secured at least one Pac-12 Player of the Week award this season. Even so, Cal put up a mighty fight; outside hitter Makana Meyer recorded a match-high 10 kills Thursday and middle blocker Lydia Grote matched that number Saturday. The mark signaled Grote’s 11th double-digit kill performance this season.

In her final two matches donning the blue and gold, Houghton led the team in digs, posting a match-high eight digs Thursday. Two days later, she rose that count to nine digs with her co-captain, Potter, right behind her. Potter dug up six balls Thursday and eight balls Saturday.

With this season now in the rear view, it’s time to reflect on what has certainly been an interesting and unusual year for the Bears.

Heading into the season, it was clear the blue and gold would be the underdogs. Very few veteran players, who had seen extensive playing time, were set to return. While the hope would have been to win more than a single match in 22 outings, fans who’ve followed the team’s journey should have noticed several sizable improvements on the court.

“Something that we really wanted to improve on from the first couple of games was having tough serving. By looking at our stats, you can see that we definitely improved our serving numbers drastically,” Bergmark said.

Another area Cal had been working on was serve-receive, the foundation that holds up every great team.

“We’re going to try and get those passing numbers up earlier in the season, so we have more opportunities to set up our offense,” Bergmark said. “Our defense has improved a ton as well. There was a point in the season where we weren’t really getting any digs, which is crucial when you want to have an offense and transition.”

In facing the best team in the conference, the Bears were able to keep the Huskies’ offense low — the most telling signal of their growth this year. With the world slowly reopening and another season under its belts, Cal should be in much better shape to fend off the learning curve next season.

As for bidding farewell to Potter and Houghton, it’s a bittersweet moment for fans and teammates alike.

“They constantly bring a smile to everyone’s faces during every practice, even though we don’t get a lot of opportunities to see each other, especially this season because of the COVID restrictions,” Bergmark said. “But those players are really special because they make sure that every time that you’re around them, you’re valued and you’re important.”

The Bears realize the gravity of the moment, as well as how far they’ve come in a season like no other. All good things must come to an end. But at every end, there is opportunity, a time of growth and a new beginning.

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