When you are the underdog, you have nothing to lose.
Going into this weekend, Cal was set to face two highly competitive teams. Being ranked dead last in the Pac-12 conference, it is reasonable for fans to have had expectations low.
These expectations, however, were quickly put to rest, and new ones arose. The Bears played hard, aggressively and resiliently during the Friday match against USC. Stress was written all over Skylar Fields’ face (one of USC’s top hitters) while Cal’s Peyton Dejardin was playing some of her best volleyball Cal has seen so far. Contrary to this fast-paced match, UCLA proved to be a rather relaxed and uneventful game.
The Trojans met the Bears on Friday night in a full Haas Pavilion. Ranked No. 1 in the Pac-12 conference at the time, the fierce USC team was prepared to defeat the Bears.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, the blue and gold had a secret weapon hidden up their sleeves: Dejardin.
The night was decorated with shoot sets from Cal’s Annalea Meader and quick attacks from Bears Sophie Scott and Mikyala Hayden. During the first set, after a long and hard fought rally, Dejardin hit a ball down the line right through the USC block to bring the set 6-10, even though USC had the lead, this sparked inspiration in Cal.
Cal had an impressively strong defense through the first set, with Cal’s Tara DeSa picking up hit after hit, tip after tip. Although USC maintained the lead throughout most of the set, the points it earned were fought for harder than the team must have expected.
A huge back row attack from Lydia Grote ended a USC run, bringing the set to 8-16. A few minutes later a grand block from Scott brought the set to 10-18. A little later, Dejardin had the Trojans on their toes and fans on the edge of their seats, posting an ace bring the set to 14-24, immediately after, Dejardin’s serve had USC scrambling to keep the ball alive; this gave Leah Schmidt the opportunity to post an enormous kill, bringing the set to 15-24.
Finally USC was able to score the final point, ending the set at 15-24. But Cal was nowhere near done.
Beginning the second set, USC came in with a strong defense, reading Cal like a book restricting the Bears’ mobility. This strong defense from USC was matched with by Cal. After having been blocked back to back, Fields was left with no choice but to roll a shot onto the Cal side bringing the score to a 3-3 tie.
USC had trouble getting far ahead of Cal throughout the second set. A grand block from Schmidt brought the set to 7-9 with USC in the lead. Later in the set a huge block from Hayden and Sydney Lilomaiava tied the set at 15-15. At this point the Trojans displayed anger and anxiety on their faces.
The battle was close with no clear sign which way the set would say. Eventually Dejardin’s tip to the corner of the USC side was attempted to be saved by Fields, only for her to shank it giving Cal the set 26-25
The second two sets were illustrated with angry faces on the USC side and hopeful faces on the Cal side. This hope was quickly shut down though, ending in 25-20 and 25-19; USC took home another victory.
The following Sunday the Bears faced the Bruins for what ended up being a rather anticlimactic game compared to the USC battle.
Although Cal managed to keep the score tight through the first and second set, the third set was basically handed to UCLA.
The Bruins displayed little to no motivation; Cal matched this tempo and as a result gave fans little to cheer for. It seems Cal is great at adapting to other teams’ playing styles. This does not prove useful when playing against slower-paced teams, as Cal tends to play down to their level.
The Bruins quickly swept the Bears in a 25-19, 25-22 and 25-10 game.
Will the Bears be able to ignite the fire that burned against the USC game?