A wave is made up of highs and lows — it ebbs and flows and has high points, but always comes crashing to the surface in the end.
For Cal beach volleyball, this weekend was filled with its highs and lows, just like a wave, fitting as the team competed in sunny Oahu, Hawaii.
The Bears opened up the weekend with tough major top 10 opponents in No. 9 and host team Hawaii, and No. 3 TCU. Immediately their backs were against the wall and had to come out firing against their first two matches. Unfortunately, their fires were put out. The blue and gold came up short in both matches on Thursday, losing to the host team Hawaii three sets to two and to No. 3 TCU four sets to one.
In the Hawaii game, the Bears picked up two game wins and even took a third game to three sets, however they still fell to Hawaii after a tough battle. The teams were neck and neck throughout, and with a few more bounces the Bears’ way, the match could have had an entirely different outcome. Against the Horned Frogs, the Bears picked up one win in the match and forced a second game to go to three sets, but could not manage to get the job done.
The two games Thursday must have been a shock to the system for the No. 10 Bears, but their confidence was not shaken as they believe they can compete with the best. Friday was a new day and a chance to turn it around against some lesser competition.
“We are right there with these teams,” said redshirt junior Lexi McKeown. “Going off of (Thursday), everyone was more hungry going into the next matches to really prove ourselves. I think that the losses definitely fueled our fires to go in and prove how good of a team we are.”
The Bears did in fact turn it around on Friday, winning both matches with fervor. The blue and gold, who stumbled the day prior, did not let that deter them as they beat Nebraska on Friday five sets to none and UC Davis four sets to one. The Bear pairs were locked in on Friday and took care of both these teams as they should have as the No. 10 team in the nation.
The ability for the blue and gold to bounce back after a tough game or tough day will prove to be vital as they season progresses. They do not let a tough loss affect their focus or mindset coming into another match and it was evident Friday.
Their two wins Friday meant they had a rematch against No. 9 Hawaii, and did the Bears ever take advantage of that. On Saturday, the Bears faced the hosts on their home sands for a second time in three days. Playing a team twice so closely together allows the team to make adjustments and find weaknesses it was not able to adapt to the first time around, but could in the second. Whatever the Bears did to prepare, it worked, because they pulled off the upset against the home team three sets to two in another hard-fought battle. They picked up the decisive third-pair win with sophomore Brooke Buchner and senior transfer Ashley Delgado.
“Everyone was more accustomed with the teams that they were playing and I think that’s why we saw greater success overall.” McKeown said.
The bounces rolled the Bears’ way in that rematch with Hawaii, which set them up for another rematch, but this time against TCU. In the final game on Saturday against TCU, the blue and gold tried once again to modify their game plan and attack the Horned Frogs’ weaknesses, but it seemed as though TCU did the same to Cal.
The outcome was no different than the first time around, with Cal losing four sets to one. The team fought hard, but ultimately only picked up one win from the pair of McKeown and first year Ella Driebholz as the Horned Frogs put away the Bears.
Cal ended the tournament 3-3, right at .500 for the weekend. The team played some tough competition in two other top-10 teams in the country — coming in, it was clear that some of the matches were not going to be easy and it showed in the record.
With the win, it is evident the Bears can compete with some of the best in the country and belong in that conversation themselves.
This upcoming weekend, the Bears head down to SLO for six matches over two days. Cal has a busy weekend ahead as it will be playing a lot of games in a small window of time. However, this tournament is big for the Bears and can really help their record if they come away with some wins.
“I think we’re definitely really excited from Hawaii going into Cal Poly, we definitely have more rhythm as a team, ready to go 6-0 sweep,” McKeown said.
The blue and gold will be the best team at the tournament, statistically speaking. They are playing against two other top-20 opponents in No. 11 Cal Poly SLO and No. 15 Pepperdine, but none ranked higher than the No. 10 Bears. Among the rest of the teams traveling to SLO this weekend are Boise State, Southern Mississippi, Houston Baptist and Santa Clara, none of which should pose any true threat to the blue and gold.
This upcoming weekend is a big opportunity to really solidify the Bears’ position as one of the nation’s top teams and come away with a lot of wins, six to be exact, to add to the tally.