Resilience is an incredibly important trait for a volleyball team to possess — sets and games are extremely volatile, and teams often find themselves on the wrong side of a long run or a lopsided match.
For a team as young as Cal, resilience can be a hard act to muster. But while the Bears have yet to show a consistent ability to overcome struggles and deficits, they showed glimmers of toughness in their last two nonconference games this week.
Even after Saint Mary’s dominated the first set of Wednesday’s matchup — its 25-8 opening set win was the largest margin in any of Cal’s sets this year — the Bears were not entirely discouraged. Cal proceeded to rattle off three straight convincing wins (25-20, 25-22, 25-19) to take the match by a 3-1 score.
“Some of those things are growing pains in terms of discipline, execution and vision of what we are seeing and what we are reacting to,” said Cal head coach Sam Crosson. “Still, overall, I felt like the team was putting forward the effort and desire to win. There are a lot of good intangibles going on; we just aren’t quite as clean as we would like to be on our execution.”
Unlike in Cal’s previous six victories, the blue and gold did not dominate on the stat sheet: Saint Mary’s out-killed (54-43), out-hit (.231 to .217), out-aced (5-4) and out-blocked (10-7) the home team. Despite the subpar peripherals, however, the Bears were able to claw themselves back into the win column, reinforcing Crosson’s point about discovering different ways of manifesting success and winning close games.
Running without a rest day from the previous game and facing a solid Big West team, Cal wasn’t able to replicate its resilience Thursday, suffering a 3-1 loss to UC Davis.
Despite some fine defensive play from seniors Mima Mirkovic and Katie Smoot, who combined for 26 digs, the Bears were never able to find their rhythm, and they dropped the first two sets by large margins.
There were still bright spots in the loss, though, as junior Bella Bergmark continued to improve her play with a combined 17 kills, five blocks and two aces in the two games. Opposite hitter Sydney Lilomaiava also added 11 kills to Cal’s total over the weekly matches as she vies to cement her role in the starting lineup before conference play.
That conference play is fast approaching, as Cal has wrapped up its nonconference slate and now prepares for a trip to Palo Alto to face rival Stanford on Wednesday. As much as the Bears have been able to work out some kinks against quality competition in the last month, Stanford and the rest of the Pac-12 are a different beast.
“It will be interesting when we get to the conference because the coaching is really good, the players are really good. Everyone’s got talent,” Crosson said. “(We want to) put some good showings to the top five or so teams in our conference: Oregon, Washington, Stanford, UCLA, USC.”
The Bears will need to take all the lessons they have learned in the preseason — especially the ability to push through the tough sets — into their demanding conference schedule if they are to find success. Though it sounds like a tough task, the team remains confident it has the skill sets and talent to make a run.
“If we can do the things we want to be good at, we are going to be competitive with everyone,” Crosson said.