Time has an odd way of moving fast when you get distracted or when you least expect it — but especially when you’re having fun. As Cal volleyball nears the end of its season, it is crazy to think this journey began way back in August.
Familiar faces crowd a beautiful Haas Pavilion Friday after Friday, Sunday after Sunday. But this familiarity also remains constant with losses. They say being at the top is lonely. But unable to snatch a conference win so far, Cal stands lonely at the bottom of the Pac-12 conference. With the last conference win having been in the 2020-21 season against a familiar Cardinal nemesis, Cal is overdue for a win.
In the Trojan’s home territory of LA on Saturday, the Bears will face the USC Trojans, who must be hungry for a win after a hard-fought battle Nov. 9 against Stanford that ended in a 3-2 loss.
Standing at No. 3 in the Pac-12 with a 10-5 conference record and an 18-8 overall record, USC is without a doubt a serious contender, always ready for a challenging match.
The last time fans saw this matchup Oct. 21, Cal delivered a surprisingly aggressive and sturdy fight, forcing the Trojans to fight on and fight hard for every point despite the ultimate loss. Playing up to USC’s fast tempo game, Cal proved it could play volleyball at a very high level. Whether the Bears manage to pull it off again, however, is the real question.
That night saw 15 kills from Leah Schmidt, 11 from Lydia Grote and 10 from Peyton DeJardin. Not only will these Bears have to deliver the same heat, they will have to outplay these numbers if they hope to break their 14-game losing streak. Additionally, that night saw two service aces each from DeJardin and Schmidt.
Notable Trojans include 6’2 outside hitter Skylar Fields, who leads the team with 460 kills. Fields seems to have the grit and resilience it takes to remain a tough competitor, even through adversity. She was absent for the Stanford game, however, so it is uncertain whether she will be playing Saturday.
Fear not, though — or do — for Lindsey Miller and Jordan Wilson know how to step up to the plate. With Miller, the 6’4 middle blocker posting 10 kills and five blocks, and outside hitter Wilson posting 21 kills and two blocks during the Stanford game, USC proves they are more than just one or two good players.
Moreover, USC’s Mia Tuaniga, the 5’9 setter, not only holds an impressive 1107 assists, but also serves like no other, never ceasing to wow crowds. With 51 service aces from the sophomore this season, Cal will have to perform strong defensively in order to come out on top.
Having caused some trouble for Cal last time, Emilia Weske is a player to watch closely. The 6’2 opposite slipped in quite a few sneaky quick attacks with seemingly little-to-no effort last time USC paid a visit to the Bears. Fans hope that in the second matchup of these two teams, Cal will have a better read on the Trojans.
Top hitters during the last USC match such as DeJardin, Schmidt and Grote will have to play strategically at the net, placing every ball intentionally as USC’s defense is not easy to get past. On the flip side, Cal will have to mirror this strong defense. With Mikayla Hayden and Sophie Scott, fans can be confident in a big Bear block.
It is challenging to say what way the game will sway, as Cal tends to have inconsistent trends in performance. One thing is certain though: Either the Bears will show USC once again that they in fact can play at a high and intense level or they will crumble under the heat of the Trojans, only to be sent home winless.