It’s hard to beat the gift of Thanksgiving dinner — the food is fantastic and the people are even better. In other words, it’s nothing at all like broke-college-student meals and dining hall food. The fun of Thanksgiving festivities will take place Nov. 25 this year, but the Bears’ celebration of thankfulness might arrive early if Cal volleyball can secure a win against UCLA on Nov. 24.
Given the Bears’ souvenirless return from the Mountain States of Colorado and Utah, which marks their 18th straight conference loss, the team will need to fight extra hard to collect at least one Pac-12 win.
Cal’s first mountain opponent, Utah, challenged the team Nov. 18, a match that resulted in a 0-3 sweep by the Utes. They’re a more-than-formidable opponent and rank No. 17 nationally after winning 12 of their 18 Pac-12 matches. During their match against the Bears, the Utes demonstrated that power with final set scores of 14-25, 9-25 and 13-25.
Cal kept the score close in the beginning at 4-5, but the Utes went on an impressive 9-0 run shortly after. A kill by sophomore middle blocker Lydia Grote was able to halt Utah, but even with the support of other Bears, the team was too far behind to stop the eventual Ute set victory.
Cal’s struggles in communication have been a continual contributor to its lack of success. The team is strong, but with the consistent errors, its talent cannot come through fully.
“It’s more communication than skill. Like it starts with the communication and that, like, affects the skill,” said freshman setter Annalea Maeder.
During the second set, the Bears had a difficult time against Utah’s gameplay, and ended with a final score of 9-25. The third set began with a sharp 9-1 run by Utah, kicking off the match to a strong Ute start. The Bears ultimately couldn’t take the set, resulting in a Utah win — its fourth straight match victory at the time.
On Nov. 21, Cal traveled to its other mountain opponent, Colorado, in hopes of redeeming its loss against Utah. Although the team came closer in the second and third sets to victory, it also fell to the Buffs in the end.
The score came to a close at 17-25, 21-25 and 23-25 — a closer match than Cal’s finish with Utah. It began 2-3, but Colorado’s fierce play widened the gap to 5-12. To the misfortune of Cal, the Buffs closed out the set 17-25, and the next set began.
The Bears were scrappy during the second and third sets. During the third, Cal took a 5-0 lead at the start behind two kills from junior opposite Sydney Lilomaiava. The teams traded off the lead until the two were tied at 22-22, but the match ended up with a 0-3 sweep in the third set with a Colorado kill at 23-24.
The gameplay that the teams posed was ultimately too mountainous for Cal. But the Bears hope to gobble up UCLA in their approaching match this week and come home with a souvenir of victory.
But the team from Los Angeles will be a tough one to beat: Cal has yet to win a single conference match thus far, whereas UCLA has only lost three matches in Pac-12 play. The Bruins are strong — their hitting percentage lies at .275, a figure just over .1 stronger than the Bears’ .173. The team also performs well when it comes to the block — it averages around 2.44 blocks per set, whereas Cal’s block averages 1.8 per set.
The Bruins have very talented players, but it’s their teamwork that carries the extra weight that’s brought them national recognition. Strong players are one thing, but strong players who know how to execute strong teamwork are what is necessary to achieve victory.
Grote, for one, averages 3.33 blocks per set and has an average hitting percentage of .204 — efficient numbers and an average block that outmatches UCLA’s overall. But teams are more than the talent of any one individual player; they’re the culmination of the talent of all teammates.
Cal knows that it struggles with communication, as it’s been a massive contributing factor to its losing streak thus far. If the team can turn around that issue, its odds of a delicious and victorious feast will skyrocket in time for Thanksgiving.
Mia Wachtel covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected].