Cal volleyball started its season on a high note last Saturday in Haas Pavilion, defeating the USF Dons in all three sets in a preseason exhibition matchup. The game was a neck and neck battle of shifting momentum, but the Bears persevered with help from some of Cal’s newest and oldest players alike.
Specifically, it was freshman outside hitter Maggie Li and senior outside hitter Sam Taumoepeau who led the Bears to victory. Li led the team in kills with an impressive 16 kills while Taumoepeau posted a daunting double-double of 11 kills and 11 digs.
Not only did this contest mark the debut of interim head coach Crissy Jones Schoonderwoerd, but of five Cal volleyball newcomers – it was Li who particularly excelled under pressure. Li is an outside hitter from Beijing and a member of the 2022 Chinese Women’s National U20 Team — experience that may explain her prowess on the court, despite only a freshman status.
“I definitely was a little bit nervous, but not as much because that’s what the practices have been for, they help lead me to be prepared for the game,” Li said. “But I was definitely more excited because I got to play in the starting lineup, I didn’t expect to have scored this much.”
Besting all players with a .333 hitting percentage, Li certainly surpassed expectations, but she attributes her success to her practice reps and refining her hitting technique.
“My honest thinking was using what Crissy had taught me to swing higher and also take risks. That helped me grow as a player and trust my team in those last few moments,” Li said. “But I did score the last 2 points. I felt more bonded to the team.”
Li’s teammates recognized her dynamic energy too, and the win was a clear team effort. Throughout the match, the Cal offense and defense outperformed USF in hits, digs, assists and serve receive. Senior libero Tara DeSa led Cal’s defense with 18 digs, junior setter Annalea Maeder boosted Cal’s offense with 19 assists and junior middle blocker Ellie Hamm shut the Dons’ offense down with a match-leading total of 5 blocks.
To start the game, Cal set off to the races on a 5-1 run initiated by a Taumoepeau kill. Then, the Dons swiftly got their groove back, tightening the gap. Nonetheless, Cal kept a narrow lead for most of the first set then gained momentum towards the final minutes with four straight kills from four different players — freshman outside hitter Ashley Li, DeSa, Maeder and Taumoepeau. After pulling ahead to 20-15, the Dons went on a scoring run once again, but Taumoepeau clinched the game for Cal with two straight kills for a 25-20 victory in the first match.
The following set proved even tighter than the first with both teams going back and forth, until Li smashed down her 10th kill of the night to win it for the Bears, 25-23. In the final set, Cal made multiple scoring runs to boast a 19-13 lead before the Dons made a sudden seven point streak comeback to tie the game at 24.
Once again it was Li to the rescue with two strong kills, sealing the deal for Cal and claiming the match.
“I wasn’t expecting to lead the team,” Li said. I’m only a freshman so I really try to enjoy and tackle the opportunity.” The opportunity was certainly tackled as the Bears finished with a decisive win. Up next, Cal will venture out to West Point, New York for its season opener series, facing off against Army on Aug. 25 and Fairfield and Central Connecticut State on Aug. 26.