There is no more desperate time for a bear than right before hibernation. As a cold winter approaches, the bear must do everything in its power to find one last parcel of food before it’s munching season ends.
The Bears’ volleyball team is in a similar position to the forest creature — on track to be forced into an early hibernation, Cal must find a way to remedy a winless conference record in October in hopes for a postseason appearance. To put it briefly, they are desperate for a meal.
The good news for the Bears is that it’s still hunting season in the Pacific Northwest, and the region’s most tasty snacks — the Ducks and the Beavers — lie in wait for the blue and gold.
Cal’s first chance to end its current five-game losing streak will come against No. 14 Oregon, who has put together an outstanding season thus far. The Ducks sit at 12-2 overall and 3-1 in conference, highlighted by wins over No. 24 Colorado, Arizona State and Oregon State.
Oregon prides itself on its defense, where the team has held opponents to just a .138 hitting percentage this year while averaging 2.8 blocks per set. For comparison, Cal is averaging 1.8.
“I think our preparation doesn’t really have a lot of differences like between ranked and non ranked opponents,” said freshman setter Annalea Maeder. “We watch film, develop our game in the gym and then, we just go and play.”
Preseason All-Conference selection Brooke Nuneviller will lead the Duck’s charge, as she enters Friday’s contest with a team-high 155 kills and an average of 3.84 points per set. The lineup behind her is well-rounded, though, as five other players have scored over the century mark.
As exciting as it might be to visualize taking down a ranked opponent on the road, the Bears have a much better chance at feasting in the latter half of their Oregon slate when they face Oregon State on Sunday.
The Beavs currently share the Pac-12 basement with the Bears, as both teams enter with an 0-4 record in conference. While Cal showed signs of promise in the preseason with multiple tournament wins, OSU has won just two games all season, highlighting the multitude of problems the program has faced this year.
Cal has outperformed its opponent in nearly every statistical category this year. More importantly, the Beavers have struggled in serve and receive, which is an area that the Bears have thrived. If Cal is still searching for its first conference win come Sunday, exploiting this weakness will be key to ending the road trip happy.
“It’s something that we spent a lot of time on at the gym, so it’s great that it reflects in the stats that we’re a good serving team and that’s,” Maeder said. “Our number one goal is to make pressure from the serving line because give us a chance to make great points.”
While head coach Sam Crosson still searches for a winning lineup, the staff will be aided by the return of senior libero Gabby Bellizzi. Bellizi, a three-year contributor at Cal, made her season debut against Arizona a week ago, tallying a team-high 15 digs in the contest. Her senior prescnese and play making ability is certainly a welcome addition for a team in need of a spark.
The time is now or never for the Bears — the team must play like it’s the end of the season because this weekend truly determines the rest of the year. If Cal can’t take care of business, especially against the drowning Beavers, then the season is all but a wash. But a win or two will propel the Bears forward, and might just stave off hibernation for just a little longer.
Noah Parker covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].