After an eventful weekend at the Wolf Pack Invitational, Cal volleyball remains undefeated with an 11-0 record as a result of back-to-back wins against Montana State and Nevada. The Bears haven’t gotten this far since their 2011 start of 13 consecutive wins, but it was far from an easy journey.
Although Cal was able to sweep Montana State in three sets, the team struggled to close it out against Nevada, ensuing a four-set battle of back-and-forth play. What ultimately allowed the Bears to perform better against the Bobcats was a combination of defensive solidarity and all-around consistency.
While Cal defense kept Montana State limited to .162 hitting, the Bears’ offense posted .408 hitting on their side of the net, creating a significant advantage that allowed Cal to maintain the lead for most of the match.
“I think when we upped our serving game, it helped us in the blocking game as well,” said redshirt sophomore Ava Mehrten. “When we were able to get them out of system, the blocking got a lot better.”
Mehrten was named All-Tournament MVP for her impressive 19 kills and nine blocks.
Cal had a good day defensively, which was also reflected in senior libero Tara DeSa’s double-double of 16 digs and 10 assists, putting her over the 1,000 dig mark in her career.
The offense similarly put on an excellent performance, with freshman outside hitter Maggie Li registering 18 kills, four blocks and five digs and senior outside hitter Sam Taumeopeau posting 13 kills with .571 hitting, five digs and two aces. Meanwhile, junior middle blocker Ellie Hamm smashed down eight kills and six blocks, and junior setter Annalea Maeder helped facilitate the game with 33 assists.
Cal started the first set off with a bang with kills from Hamm, strong serves from Taumoepeau and momentum-shifting blocks and kills from Li and Mehrten, clinching the set 25-19. Despite a strong start from Montana State with junior outside hitter Jourdain Kamps leading her squad with 12 kills, the second set followed a similar suit with kills all around that gave the Bears a consistent lead, eventually taking the set with a score of 25-18.
The Bobcats began to get into a nice groove in the third set as they kept a close advantage throughout the set even with an impressive .542 hitting from Cal. Several battles followed with both teams forced to take timeouts until Li’s numerous kills sparked a momentum shift back to Cal’s side and a double block from Hamm and Taumeopeau sealed the deal at 25-22.
It was only until the final match against Nevada that Cal was truly put to the test. This was largely due to impressive performances from sophomore middle blocker Jordan Schwartz with 11 blocks, freshman setter Tehya Maeva with 32 assists and 10 digs and junior outside/opposite hitter Sia Liilii with 16 kills — as well as a buildup of various errors on the Bears’ end.
“I think we had a lot of personal errors; we struggled a lot with our hitting,” said Mehrten. “We had either a lot of good kills or a lot of bad ones, and I think we really struggled with playing smart, so knowing when to rip on the ball and when to keep it in play.”
Nevada managed to keep Cal comebacks at bay until blocks from Mehrten and Hamm gave the Bears a lead, battling it out in rallies. Cal eventually managed to claim the victory, courtesy of kills from Taumeopeau and Mehrten and an ace from Maeder.
In the second set, Cal made consecutive error runs to give Nevada an early lead and be held to .064 hitting. The game remained close until the end, as both teams contributed back-and-forth kills, blocks and aces from the Wolf Pack’s Liilii, Maeva, Schwartz and sophomore outside hitter Gabby McLaughlin to the Bears’ Hamm, Mehrten and Li.
The momentum shifted in the third set with Cal forcing 12 ties with Nevada and finally pulling ahead with nine kills from Mehrten and more from Li and Taumeopeau. It became clear who had the momentum in the final set as Bears kept various point leads over Nevada, keeping them at -.267 hitting with eight blocks to take the game 25-15.
After getting past that final obstacle, the Bears have officially made it through preseason play undefeated with stellar performances all around. Li and Taumeopeau joined Mehrten on the All-Tournament team and were joined by Maeder in recording double-doubles against Nevada, while Hamm posted a career high of nine blocks.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this team,” Mehrten said. “I feel like the girls on and off the court have worked super hard to be at (this) spot.”
Next up, Cal will take on their Bay Area rival, No. 4 Stanford, to open up Pac-12 play Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Haas Pavilion.