The 2023 Cal beach volleyball team was one of the most successful in program history.
Cal made a great impression at the Pac-12 tournament and qualified for its second straight NCAA championship at its highest seed yet, No. 8. Despite a commendable performance, Cal bowed out of the tournament against UCLA, concluding the 2023 season.
The tournament took place in Gulf Shores, Alabama and kicked off on May 5. The Bears’ first tournament opponent was No. 9 Long Beach State.
Inclement weather delayed the match by nearly two hours before teams were called back to the courts and play began.
Despite insecure weather conditions, the Bears stayed locked in and fended off an aggressive Long Beach State team. All five matches ran simultaneously, making for a high-intensity contest.
If that wasn’t enough, a heavy downpour arrived during the teams’ first sets — and they kept playing.
First to take a match was Cal’s No. 3 pair, freshman Gia Fisher and junior Maya Gessner, with set scores of 21-13, 21-15. It didn’t take Long Beach State long to respond and take its own advantage, as it took down Cal’s No. 1 and No. 5 pairs.
On court two, senior captains Ashley Delgado and Ainsley Radell fought through a grueling battle with Long Beach State’s Sydney Stevens and Julia Westby. After taking the first set at the tight score of 21-18, the Cal duo fell behind 16-13 in the second set. Pure grit allowed the duo to claw its way back and win 21-17, tying the matchup at 2-2.
Finally, it came down to court four. The pressure and fate of the blue and gold lay on the shoulders of senior Lexi McKeown and sophomore Ella Dreibholz. Having taken the first set 21-14, the Bears fell short in the second and were forced to play a game-deciding tiebreak.
Cal did not hold back during the final tie-breaking set, opening up with a 7-3 run. At the Bears’ match point, a Long Beach State roll shot deceived both McKeown and Dreibholz, only for it fall out of bounds by a matter of inches — Cal won 15-8 and moved on to the quarterfinals.
Following the Long Beach State win, a fearsome competitor stood in the way of Cal’s pursuit of an underdog-story NCAA title: No. 1 UCLA.
The Bears took on the Bruins on Saturday.
Cal got an early lead with Gressner and Fisher taking the first match on court three, 21-14 and 21-16. The Bruins responded, taking down pairs No. 4 and No. 5 to go ahead 2-1.
On courts two and one, the only two remaining courts, the matches came down to tie-breaking sets — the next UCLA win would seal the deal for the Bruins. Court one finished first, and it was the Bruins who came out successful 15-10, bringing Cal’s season to an end.
Despite this loss, Cal can still hold its chin up. This season saw the strongest postseason run in program history. The Bears not only made it to the Pac-12 championship final for the first time, but also won their first NCAA championship dual. The curtains close on this season, but the future is bright for Cal beach volleyball.