The No. 11-ranked Cal beach volleyball team headed into Southern California this weekend looking for some wins and to prove itself as a formidable top team in the country. It ended the weekend 3-1 overall, with its only loss being a five-sets-to-none shutout against the No. 4 team in the country in LMU. The blue and gold will have to play better than that if they want to be a force to be reckoned with at the nationals tournament in Gulf Shores, Alabama this May.
The Bears started the weekend off hot against CSUN, winning handily five sets to none. Each pair for the blue and gold took care of business and got the job done against the Matador squad. The first match proved to not be a problem for the team, but the second game against No. 4 LMU was a huge test for the No. 11 Bears.
Each pair fought hard, but the Lions’ talent was just too much for the blue and gold who dropped all five sets. A silver lining to the tough loss was that two of the Cal pairs took their opponents to three sets. The relatively young Bears have a great upside and could easily flip that score the next time they run into the Lions or any other top 10 opponent.
Saturday morning, the Bears came ready to play. They did not drop a set against Irvine Valley College, taking care of them easily. The Lasers did not put up much of a fight against Cal, but No. 15 CSULB gave the blue and gold a run for their money. It is evident that Cal did not dwell on the tough loss for long as it came out with guns blazing on Saturday. The response from Cal after the LMU game says a lot about the team, and fifth year senior Mima Mirkovic had a great mindset after it.
“We just had to take the loss at face value, and move forward and focus on being supportive. We did a good job of reframing loss as a motivator and you could really see that when we hit the stage against Long Beach,” Mirkovic said.
Cal took the first two games against Long Beach State, with the second one ending in an exciting 17-15 finish in the third set. The Cal pair for that game, junior Ainsley Radell and sophomore Ava Mann showed great mental toughness throughout until they were able to close it out. Cal dropped the third and fifth sets, but clinched the match win in the fourth set with junior Lexi McKeown and sophomore Brooke Buchner.
The Long Beach State game was a crucial one for Cal to end the weekend on a high note and collect three wins to open the season. Mirkovic and redshirt senior transfer Ana Costa had that in mind as they opened the match against CSULB with an intensity and fire that could not be put out.
“For her and I, it’s like fire and spice,” Mirkovic said. “We bring a lot of intensity and passion that is an additional advantage especially being two smaller players and split blocking, once we turn on the fire and have that energy it adds a new element to the game.”
The Mirkovic-Costa pair is a new one for the Bears, but had no trouble adjusting to each other as they had excellent chemistry over the weekend. Both have played internationally and all that experience under their belt will be huge over the course of the season for the young Cal roster.
Opening weekend for the Bears turned out to be an impressive one. They put away teams that they should have put away, showed resilience in their loss and did not let their loss shake their confidence for day two. It should be noted that this Bears team has a lot of young talent and new pairs who shared the court together for the first time this weekend. To come out of it 3-1 is a great starting off point for Cal and its season.
A lot of the success can be contributed to the team morale and confidence they have in one another. Mikrovic highlighted their engagement and presence in their teammates’ matches as a huge factor this weekend. They willed each other to win games and the energy provided from the engagement is seen in their results.
“Our team culture and how we care for and love one another is going to serve as a significant advantage over other teams, (our coach) always says,” Mirkovic said. “We did a phenomenal job in supporting one another, cheering each other on and really engaging with each pair.”
Cal heads to Davis this upcoming weekend for two matches it hopes to add to the win column.
Emery Goulet covers men’s golf and beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].