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A new dawn of Cal volleyball: Bears hunt USF Dons

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AUGUST 17, 2023

The Cal volleyball season is set to begin with plenty of fresh new faces and lots of veteran hunger. The Bears are looking to improve their previous, lackluster season, which ended with a 7-23 record.

Cal’s first redemption opportunity will be on Saturday at Haas Pavilion in an exhibition match against USF. The team has four new freshmen and is led by a brand new coaching staff; fans can expect the unexpected given significant offseason changes. 

The interim head coach Crissy Jones Schoonderwoerd possesses a background in collegiate and professional volleyball — from All-American and All-Pac-12 honors to playing beach volleyball tours for the Association of Volleyball Professionals and for Team USA in the International Volleyball Federation. Assistant coach Savannah Rennie, a former Cal volleyball player, holds conference honors from her time at both Cal and Marquette. She was a volunteer assistant coach at no. 4 ranked USC last season.

The introduction of new coaches is paired with several notable freshmen newcomers. Cal’s youngest faces include freshman libero Sophia Johnson, freshman outside hitter Maggie Li, freshman middle blocker Sawyer Thomsen and freshman outside hitter Ashley Li. Cal fans hope the quartet can bring the heat to Haas Pavilion.

The Bears reined in transfer portal talent as well. Sophomore setter Paige Morningstar is joining Cal’s forces after two seasons at Louisville. An established asset since her high school days, Morningstar boasts multiple national and state titles from club and high school volleyball. Morningstar has been praised for her understanding of the game, athleticism and leadership skills.

Other notable Cal players the Dons should look out for include senior libero Tara DeSa, who led the Bears last season with 448 digs — one of the best totals in conference; sophomore Mikayla Hayden, one of the Pac-12’s top-blocking freshman with an impressive 109 total; and sophomore Annalea Maeder, who totaled 846 assists and 41 aces to just 22 service errors.

As for USF, the Dons are working with fresh talent after adding eight offseason additions.

Cal’s offense will have to look out for 2022 WCC Honorable Mention and All-Freshman honoree libero Abby Wadas, who led the Dons and was third in conference with 414 total digs last season. Junior outside hitter Maria Petkova and junior setter Aylen Ayub will undoubtedly keep Cal defense on its toes, as they led USF last season with 270 total kills and 656 total assists, respectively.

No matter what happens at the exhibition match, one thing is for certain — Cal volleyball is going to be a show to watch for what remains of Pac-12 play.

Contact Emily Hamill at 


AUGUST 17, 2023