In a fresh season that is just beginning, it is important to gain as much momentum as possible before the grueling dog days of conference play set in. The most successful teams are able to propel themselves up on the foundation of their wins and ride that wave into the postseason.
Coming off the Tulane Green Wave tournament in which it doubled its win total from the previous season, Cal volleyball is attempting to ride that wave of success back to the Pacific — to be specific, the Pacific Tournament taking place Sept. 3 and 4 in Stockton.
Their opponents include the mighty Tritons of UCSD, the roaming Texan Riders of Tarleton State and the generically named Tigers from Pacific University. Though the field should provide for some quality competition, the three opposing teams come in with a combined record of just 2-7.
“Every game is gonna be way harder than the one you played before,” senior Kaite Smoot said. “You can’t go in with expectations of ‘We are a Pac-12 team, we’re gonna win no matter who we play.’ You need to be on your A-game every single time. ”
UCSD and Pacific were both swept in their opening weekend tournaments, the Cactus Classic and SMU tournament respectively. The Tritons didn’t have a season last year, while Pacific saw all but nine games canceled, so some growing pains are expected for these teams.
Tarleton State comes in as the only opposing team in the field with a win, as it defeated Florida International in four sets last Friday and Eastern Washington on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Bears are coming off of an incredibly successful — especially by last season’s standards — Tulane tournament in which they flashed their potential with wins over Alabama A&M and Northwestern State in straight sets.
Cal played especially sound volleyball in New Orleans: dominating in the stats department by out-killing, out-digging and committing fewer errors than its opponents. The team’s kill percentage was particularly impressive, as its .330 mark (compared to its opponent’s of .164) is incredibly efficient.
Despite the solid peripherals off of the weekend, the blue and gold still lost a game, and there are still many facets of the game that the Bears can work on — especially this early in the season. Cal’s biggest area of potential improvement may be at the service line, where the Bears out-aced their opponents by a margin of just 15-12. And while a three ace advantage in a tournament is no small feat, head coach Sam Crosson believes that his own top-tier servers should help prepare the rest of the team for outside competition.
“I would love to see our serve and receive be dialed up,” Crosson said. “I think early on in the season servers have the advantage, it’s a little faster and intense. The theory for me is if we’re really good in our own gym, then other teams should be easier.”
The readditions of seniors Mima Mirkovic and Smoot have truly rebranded Cal volleyball into a whole new team. Already in the first weekend, Mirkovic recorded her 1,000th career kill and dig, while Smoot started hot out of the gates with a team-leading 39 kills in 10 sets played.
Freshman Annalea Maeder has also been a huge presence in the middle of the court, recording 69 assists in her role as a setter, which accounts for nearly 60% of Cal’s total assists.
“All the freshmen from day one really surprised the entire team,” Smoot said. “Annalea running an offense as a freshman has been super awesome.”
Mirkovic, Smoot, Maeder and the squad’s first chance to turn their wave of momentum into a tsunami will come in their doubleheader set against UCSD and Tarleton State on Friday, Sept. 3. They’ll play host Pacific—whom they last beat in five sets in 2018—on Saturday.
“I definitely want to come out 3-0,” Smoot said. “It’s a matter of making sure we are dialed in, that every contact is disciplined.”
Noah Parker covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].