Bears struggle against top-10 opponents, look ahead to a quiet weekend to recharge

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Theo Wyss-Flamm/Senior Staff

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It was a beautiful weekend down in Stanford for some beach volleyball. Perfect weather: not a cloud in the sky, a little breeze and an amazing venue. The vibes were immaculate; the results however, were not. 

Cal beach volleyball struggled against its top-10 competition and ended up posting a record 1-3 for the tournament.  

It started off promising against the No. 3 Bruins. The 2 pair, sophomore Maya Gessner and grad transfer Ana Costa, made quick work of their opponent and won in two sets to give the pair their first point. That would be the only point the Bears would earn against UCLA though, despite some excellent play by the 3 pair and 5 pair for Cal. Each pair, the 3s and the 5s, were able to extend its match to three sets before ultimately falling to the UCLA duo in the third, giving the Bruins the victory. 

The Bears fell to UCLA 4-1; that score, however, does not reflect how close this match was. If a few more points had gone Cal’s way, it could have flipped the script entirely. 

The second match of the day did not get any easier for the No. 12 Bears as they faced the No. 1 team in the country, which entered the tournament on an 18-game win streak: USC.  The Trojans took down Cal four sets to one en route to stretching their win streak to 22 games. The Bears did secure a win from their 3s pair, freshman Ella Driebholz and senior transfer Lexi McKeown, in straight sets.  

After a rough first day, Cal looked to turn it around against Utah and No. 8 Stanford on Sunday. The Bears came out hot to start against the Utes as they swept them handily 5-0. 

This stopped the bleeding from the day before and provided some much-needed momentum heading into the game against the Cardinal.  

A win against No. 8 Stanford would have been huge for the Bears. Not only would they have been taking down a top-10 team, but beating their bitter rival on their home courts would make it even sweeter. 

Unfortunately it was not written in the stars for the blue and gold as they fell just short, losing three sets to two. Cal was victorious with the Gessner/Costa and Driebholz/McKeown duos while taking two other duels to three sets, though Stanford claimed both those games which vaulted them to a win. This game, similar to the UCLA game, could have gone either way. A few more points in Cal’s favor and it was theirs to lose. 

“Against UCLA and Stanford we’re right there, it comes down to a couple points and next time, we definitely have the opportunity to take either one of those teams,” McKeown said.

This weekend just highlights that against great teams, the margin for error is very small.  The Bears have to come out with their best effort and limit their mistakes because the good teams will always take advantage of them, as evidenced by this weekend. 

Despite going 1-3 in Stanford this past weekend, the Bears have a lot to take away. 

They were able to stay in games and compete with some top-10 teams as they have all season long. The games against Stanford and UCLA were decided by a few points — they just couldn’t get over the hump this time. If Cal can polish its game up to the Pac-12 championships and eventually nationals, it would have a great chance to take down some of the same teams it saw this weekend. 

“This was our first taste of some of these Pac-12 teams,” McKeown said. “We haven’t played any of them prior to this weekend so I think it was a good first look going into the Pac-12 championships at the end of the month.”

Next weekend Cal looks to right the ship and get the momentum trending in the right direction again as it travels to Santa Clara for just a single match Friday. This will be a relatively quiet weekend for the Bears as they play just one game against a 7-14 Santa Clara team that Cal has already beaten this year 5-0. 

It will be a good time to recharge and regroup as a team before hedging into the final stretch of the season.

Emery Goulet covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].