A not-so-sweet 16: Cal loses 16th straight match in Pac-12 conference

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Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff

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Reaching the prime age of 16 is a notable chapter in many young women’s lives. It is a mark of entering adulthood, of learning to drive and getting first jobs. Celebrating the renowned sweet 16 is an incredible moment, but that celebration had other plans for Cal women’s volleyball.

The team walked away from the Nov. 11 and Nov. 14 matches against WSU and Washington, respectively, unsuccessful, racking up its 16th loss in conference — a sour 16 indeed.

During their last match against the team, the Bears were scrappy and battled viciously, finishing 23-25, 25-20, 12-25 and 23-25 against the then-No. 13 Huskies. Since its last game was so close, Cal was excited to play Washington again with hopes of coming out on top, but the Huskies were too strong and the Bears were unable to close out the match victoriously.

“I think we’ve definitely had better performances, especially in our last game against Washington,” said freshman setter Annalea Maeder. “We were pretty hyped for this game because we knew that … we showed a pretty good game (last time), and it was a close game too. … It’s disappointing that we couldn’t build on that foundation and get a set or two off today.”

Washington is a fierce team that plays consistently well and has demonstrated that much throughout the Pac-12 conference. The Bears fared well against the team today, but they had hopes of pulling off a stronger performance more similar to their last face-off against the Huskies.

The first set began with an impressive Washington lead at 4-15, and continued that streak when the team reached 8-21. After a Husky service error, junior outside hitter Leah Schmidt and sophomore opposite Sam Taumoepeau made several kills to help out Cal, but Maeder was the star of the first set. She gave the Bears just a little more time to make points when her kill and service ace four points later saved the team at set point, but an eventual Washington kill closed out the first set.

During the second set, kills by redshirt junior middle blocker Bella Bergmark, Lydia Grote, Schmidt and other Cal contenders kept the score slightly closer at 5-9 and eventually 16-20, but the Huskies’ lead and tight playing throughout the set led to another set victory for the team.

The Bears took an early lead during the third set at 5-3 and kept the score relatively close throughout, but the team lost again to the Huskies, closing out the match with another loss. The match marked a sweet sixteenth game for Washington, but it remained bitter for the blue and gold.

Something that contributes consistently to Cal’s losses in close matches is its lack of communication.

“I feel like today it was a lot about communication… if we’re not talking, then, like, no one knows who’s going for the ball and that just, like, creates conflict,” Maeder said. “Stupid things happen that definitely do not have to happen that kick us out of … the game momentum … so I think it’s best to, especially post-game … focus on things that we can do better that we can actually control.”

It’s often communication errors that trip up the Bears and it was no different during the Nov. 11 match against No. 22 WSU.

The match ultimately ended in a 0-3 loss, with scores of 19-25, 23-25 and 14-25 during the sets, respectively. Cal played hard, even taking the lead in the first set at 6-3, but the team’s lack of communication kept it from closing out the set victoriously.

The team has skill, but even with the fierce playing of teammates like Grote, with 15 kills on a .344 hitting percentage, and Bergmark, with four blocks and six kills on a .364 hitting percentage during the match against the Cougars, the Bears’ communication faults consistently keep them from achieving a blue and gold victory.

If Cal improves its communication, its upcoming match against Utah on Nov. 18 might end with a Bear victory during match seventeen, and the team can walk away as victorious dancing queens.

Mia Wachtel covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].