Bears fight hard until elimination in Pac-12 Championships, conclude season

photo of 2 beach volleyball players
Karen Chow/File

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The Bears concluded the most promising year of Cal beach volleyball in school history this past weekend at the Pac-12 Championships in Los Angeles. The Bears clawed their way through the competition, fighting for every point and leaving all of their effort on the sand. Ultimately, Cal ended the tournament as fifth in the Pac-12, marking a successful end to its strenuous, successful season.

The tournament started last Thursday afternoon with heated competition against No. 9 Stanford. As the Bears and the Cardinal had gone back and forth in earlier contests this season, the gravity of this match was clear to Cal.

The Bears won the first point of the afternoon but were knotted with the Cardinal at two points apiece after four games. The determining match was set on court five, where freshmen duo Brooke Buchner and Grace Paulson faced off against Stanford duo Maddie Dailey and Jordan McKinney. In this decisive match, the Bears fell 21-12 and 21-13.

“Mima and I were personally very frustrated with this loss. After our first match against Stanford in the beginning of the season, we thought we had come so far and figured them out,” said junior Caroline Schafer.

Since the Bears had lost to the Cardinal the night before, wins were vital for the Bears to move on in the tournament. That morning, Cal beach volleyball hopped on the sand courts with Oregon on the other side of the net.

The Bears had great success in their prior matches against the Ducks and showed no mercy on the courts. In three games, Cal demolished Oregon and claimed its first win of the Pac-12 Championships.

Buchner and Paulson secured the first win of the match, setting off a domino effect for their teammates. Senior Alexia Inman and freshman Ava Mann were the next duo to beat the Ducks, winning their match in a three-set game, 16-21, 21-14 and 15-21. A third win for Cal came with an abrupt ending when Oregon’s Carly Wallace faced an injury and could not continue.

On Friday afternoon, Cal did battle with third-seeded No. 8 Arizona.

The two teams went back and forth in wins for the first four matches. In the determining game of the match, junior Jordan Polo and sophomore Ainsley Radell lost the first round and came back and won the second set 22-20. In the decisive third set, the Bears squashed the Wildcats and mobbed the court in celebration.

This win secured another day of competition for the blue and gold, in which the squad would have to fight for a fourth or higher seed to continue on and earn a bid into the NCAA tournament. Again, Cal found itself facing Stanford.

“I knew that this could be the last game of my collegiate career, so it was definitely nostalgic,” Schafer said.

The first match began on court four where Maddie Micheletti and Maya Gessner lost to Stanford in straight sets. On court two, Polo and Radell fought hard in a three-set match, winning the first set, losing the second and ultimately falling in the third, 18-16. The Cardinal took a third game, and the match was over.

This loss concluded the Pac-12 Championships for Cal beach volleyball, completing the team’s season and finalizing its 16-13 record. Though the Bears did not earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, their effort and confidence will carry into next season.

Alisa Steel covers beach volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].