Back on Track: Returning stars hope to reignite Cal Volleyball

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Katie Lee/Staff

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One is the loneliest number.

It looks especially lonely in Cal Volleyball’s 2020-2021 win column: Their 1-21 record was the worst in the program’s history.

“You just move forward, not because it was a negative, but because of all that was going on,” said head coach Sam Crosson. “I think our girls are better for it in the long run. We survived this and can use this as motivation.”

Last season was unique in the sense that it didn’t even come close to representing the program’s ability to dominate the court. In 2019, the Bears went 20-10 with Crosson in just his first year under the helm, which was their first time reaching the 20 win mark in a decade.

Cal will attempt to recapture that magic this fall season, aided by fresh (albeit veteran) reinforcements. Outside hitter Mima Mirkovic is returning from her leave of absence to play beach volleyball in 2020, filling both a void on the court with her play and experience.

As a junior in 2019, Mirkovic led the team with 325 kills and placed second on the squad with 289 digs. Mirkovic’s efforts earned her a spot on the All Pac-12 team and she will return as the only Bear with that recognition.

Also back from the sandpit is fellow outside hitter Katie Smoot, whose presence stood out with 307 kills in 2019. The two seniors are anticipated to be Cal’s X-factors for a successful season in which they are sure to serve as the twin “kill”-er Bears.

Mrikovic and Smoot will be joined by five incoming players, along with a young, but newly experienced starting rotation. The blue and gold put forth one of the youngest lineups in the country last year, and while this may have been trial by fire, Crosson believes his team is better off because of it.

“Even though the outcome obviously was not very good, there is no substitute for experience,” Crosson said. “We will certainly learn from it. Our group dynamic is a lot different than it was in the spring.”

While there is plenty of room for improvement from last season, the team’s ultimate goal remains reaching the NCAA tournament — a feat the Cal team has not achieved since 2013. The program had previously been selected for 12 consecutive postseasons prior to 2014, which is an impressive achievement that will serve as a lofty benchmark for Bears to come.

“Having Katie and Mima back, the number one goal for us at the end of the year is to make the NCAA tournament,” said Crosson. “If we can get that first foot in the door this year, it would be a big step forward for our program to get Cal volleyball back into the tournament on a consistent basis and then take the next leap. ”

After waiting for months in limbo last year wondering if they would have a season, the Bears will get started early this year, first traveling to New Orleans to play in the Tulane Tournament Aug. 27 to 28. The Bears will face off against Alabama A&M, Northwestern State and Tulane over the two-day stretch.

Cal has a chance to surpass last season’s total wins in a single weekend, as the Bears look to keep their loss column as lonely as possible.

Noah Parker covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].