Double trouble: Cal takes 2 as Mirkovic sets dual milestones

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Celine Bellegarda/Senior Staff

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Lightning struck twice this weekend in New Orleans. And it wasn’t from Hurricane Ida.

Senior Mima Mirkovic reached two major milestones Friday, recording her 1,000th career dig in Cal’s season opener and her 1,000th career kill in the second contest of the doubleheader.

Mirkovic becomes just the eighth Bear to accomplish both feats, all while helping lead Cal to a 2-1 record in the Tulane Tournament. The doubleheader sweep Friday already doubled Cal’s win total from last season.

“Everyone is in a rush at times to figure out what we’re going to look like,” said head volleyball coach Sam Crosson. “Not too many teams are rocking at full RPM right now, but it was exciting to be back.”

If there was any doubt in Cal’s abilities this fall, the Bears put those rumors to rest with their dominant play in the season opener. After losing 15 of their 22 games in the 2020-21 season in straight sets, the blue and gold flipped the script, taking their first two games by 3-0 scores.

Cal’s opening matchup against Alabama A&M was never particularly close, as Cal stretched large leads in all three sets, including a 10-0 run to begin the second set. Senior Katie Smoot led the Bear attack in her first game back from her beach volleyball season, putting A&M into hibernation with her 13 kills.

Overall, Cal commanded a .446 successful kill rate (37 kills and just eight errors in 65 attempts), while holding the Bulldogs to a lowly -0.31 rate.

“We really want to run fast on offense, but that is only a byproduct of if we are passing and digging balls to a spot on the court where we can actually do that,” Crosson said.

Game two saw more of the same dominance, as the Bears defeated Northwestern State in straight sets thanks to a 45-28 kill and 4-1 ace advantage. Freshman Annalea Maeder was a strong wing woman, compiling 20 assists in her role as a setter.

“COVID happened, and we hadn’t seen her play in person in the recruiting process,” Crosson said of Maeder. “To be able to have her here is huge.”

The Bears failed to keep the momentum going in their final game against host Tulane, as they fell 3-1 in a highly contested match. Despite only totaling nine fewer points and keeping par with the Green Wave in kills, assists and digs, the team couldn’t find that extra push to finish close sets.

Smoot led the charge with 18 kills, while juniors Bella Bergmark and Sydney Lilomaiava each added nine more. Maeder continued her excellent play with another 41 assists across the four sets.

While Smoot led the team with 39 kills across the whole tournament, it was fellow outside hitter Leah Schmidt who was named to the All-Tournament team with her 18 kills across seven sets. Bergmark was also honored with an All-Tournament team title, thanks in part to her three aces across the three games.

Cal will head to safer and more familiar waters next week when it takes on UC San Diego, Tarleton State and Pacific at the Pacific Tournament  in Stockton. It’ll serve as another opportunity for the young team to refine its weak spots and figure out what works as it prepares for the mighty storm that is the Pac-12 conference schedule.

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