Cal beach volleyball came up just short of the championship match at the Pac-12 championships last week. The team fought hard but ultimately fell to the No. 2 seed at the tournament, UCLA, in the third-place game.
The Pac-12 tournament not only gives one team bragging rights over all the other Pac-12 squads, but also has big implications for who gets into the NCAA championships and what seed each team gets. It is important for teams to perform well here as it is the last chance to make some noise as a team before the selection of the NCAA championships bracket.
Cal was seeded at No. 4 for the Pac-12 tournament, which shows how loaded this conference is, given that the team finished the season No. 11 in the country. As the fourth seed, the team faced the No. 5 seed Arizona — the only other time the Bears played the Wildcats this season, Arizona got the better of them. This result was no different. The Wildcats, with home-court advantage as the hosts of the Pac-12 tournament, were able to fend off the Bears once again and upset them in the first match of the tournament.
This moved Cal into the contenders bracket and made its path to the championship a lot tougher, but not impossible. From here, it was win or go home. After the shaky start, Cal found its footing in an afternoon match against Oregon, the eighth seed at the tournament. The Bears came out firing on all cylinders against the Ducks and took the match easily, knocking out Oregon and keeping their tournament hopes alive.
Cal began the next day against bitter rival No. 3 Stanford. The Cardinal had beaten the Bears in two highly contested matches earlier in the season, but in this third time, the Bears prevailed. They came out with a big win against their cross-Bay rival and upset a higher seed that had bested them earlier in the season. This win for the blue and gold knocked Stanford out of the tournament and set themselves up for a date with No. 6 Arizona State.
The Arizona State game kicked off the third and final day of the tournament. The Bears were ready for the Sun Devils, who were one of their 23 regular-season wins, and again were able to defeat them with ease.
The blue and gold once again extended their Pac-12 tournament hopes and set them up for the third place game against UCLA. The winner of this game would go on to play No. 1-overall USC for the championship.
UCLA was just too strong for Cal; the Bruins defeated the Bears and ended their tournament run with a third-place finish for the blue and gold.
Though it was not a tournament win, the Bears did prove themselves as a contender and worthy of a chance to contend for the NCAA championship in Gulf Shores. They took down a top-10 team in the nation in Stanford and showed that they could fight with their backs against the wall.
Now, it was all up to the selection committee to decide their fate.
On Saturday, the day after the Pac-12 tournament concluded, the selection show began to find out the sixteen teams that would continue their seasons and compete for a national championship in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The Bears awaited anxiously to see if they had done enough throughout the season and at Pac-12s to send them through. They did not have to wait long to hear their name called: They had made it to the national championships for the first time ever.
The blue and gold came in at No. 11 in the 16-team bracket, which means they would face the No. 6 seed LSU in their first game. The Bears were yet to play the Tigers this year, so it would be the first time the two teams would stack up against one another. LSU was a strong team throughout the year and hovered around that sixth spot in the national rankings all season long. This would be no easy feat for Cal.
This is what they had worked all season towards, and now the moment had come. The Bears came in as the underdogs, but that didn’t mean anything to them, they had their sights set on winning it. As the match began, immediately one could tell it was going to be a battle. LSU earned the first point to put the Tigers up in the duel, but the Bears responded with a win of their own by Ana Costa and Maya Gessner.
With the match tied 1-1, the Tigers came back with another win only to have Cal tie it up once again with the duo of Ainsley Radell and Ashley Delgado. This left one court to decide the win and unfortunately for the Bears, the LSU pair came out on top in three sets. The Bear pair fought hard but could not get the job done in the third set. LSU took the match and advanced in the tournament while ending Cal’s tournament run.
“I’m really proud of this team and what we accomplished this season,” said Cal head coach Meagan Owusu. “Losing a battle like this stings, but we fought until the bitter end … I’m grateful to this entire team.”
The blue and gold have nothing to hang their heads about, as they had an incredible season. They finished with 26 wins, which is the best in program history and earned the program’s first NCAA championship appearance as well. It was Cal’s best season ever and though it did not end the way the team wanted it to, what the members accomplished will not be overlooked. The program has made a name for itself and should only continue to get better — roll on you Bears.
Emery Goulet covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].