With the Pac-12 championships on the horizon, the Cal beach volleyball team spent Saturday further proving its dominance in the sand.
Now ranked No. 10 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll, the Bears have done a lot of work these past few weeks to move up to their highest ranking in program history.
Their 3-2 win against the then-No. 9 Long Beach State 49ers on April 12 was Cal’s first victory this season against a top-10 opponent. The 49ers have since dropped to No. 12 after recent losses against Grand Canyon and No. 1 UCLA.
The day after that victory, Cal fell to the No. 6 Pepperdine Waves and the now-No. 8 Cal Poly Mustangs. While Pepperdine showed its dominance with a 4-1 victory, Cal Poly took home a much closer win. After being tied 2-2, the Mustangs just barely managed to take the final match, winning in the third set by only two points.
Exactly one week later, the Bears had the chance to face the Mustangs once again during a tri-tournament hosted by the No. 20 Stanford Cardinal.
The afternoon match started out rocky, and the Bears found themselves down 0-2 after their No. 1 and No. 2 pairs fell to their respective opponents. These were two of the same duos that lost during the last matchup with Cal Poly, and it looked like recent history might repeat itself.
Right away, however, the No. 3 and No. 4 pairs snagged straight-set victories to tie the teams. It was down to just the No. 5 matchup featuring junior Abby Waldburger and junior Madison Dueck, who won 23-21, 21-19 to finalize the Bears’ second win against a top-10 opponent.
The Bears then went on to defeat the Cardinal for the third time this season, improving on their previous 3-2 victories for a 5-0 shutout of the rival. These two wins left the Bears with a record of 19-7, a top-10 ranking and high hopes looking toward the end of the regular season.
And that end is now just around the corner. The Pac-12 championships in Los Angeles start Thursday with the No. 3-seed Bears first slated to face the unranked Arizona State Sun Devils in an early afternoon matchup.
Cal and Arizona State’s first meetup was back in early March in Tucson at the start of each team’s season. That face-off saw the Bears go home with a decisive 5-0 victory. Cal has shown a lot of growth since then and should easily dominate this match.
Last year, the Bears came in third in this tournament and would ideally like to improve on that this year. To do so, however, they will likely have to work their way past No. 1 UCLA and No. 2 USC at some point in the tournament, with both teams having already shown their dominance over Cal this season.
With Pac-12 tournament play extending into the weekend, the Bears will have to maintain and utilize the momentum generated during their recent success in order to keep their dominance over teams such as Washington, Arizona State and Stanford.
But it will take a level of play they have yet to reach if the Bears hope to knock off either of the top two teams in the nation and improve on last year’s outcome.