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Big Spike: Cal Volleyball drops Pac-12 opener to Stanford in 4 sets

After winning the 1st set, Golden Bears drop Pac-12 opener to No.11 Stanford in 4 sets

Golden Bears start Pac-12 play tonight against Stanford
Cal Volleyball Facebook

After an up-and-down (but not unexpected) non-conference season, Cal Volleyball will open Pac-12 play at home on Tuesday night against rival Stanford (ranked 12th in the country). While the optimist in me thinks that the 2016 Cal Volleyball team can get much better by the end of the season, maybe the Golden Bears can catch the Cardinal being too confident and pull off a huge upset.

Cal (6-4) vs. No.11 Stanford (6-2)

When: 7 PM PT

Where: Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, CA

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Golden Bears are coming off a weekend split against a couple of local teams. Bears lost in straight sets to Pacific on Friday night (and it wasn’t all that close) before rebounding with a 4 set win at St. Mary on Saturday night. Bears have not play any ranked opponents on the year and have two 5 set wins on the year thus far as Coach Rich Feller mix and match to find the right lineups.

Focusing on the positives, freshman outside hitter Maddie Haynes was a revelation against St. Mary’s in leading the team with 18 kills. Senior Jenelle Jordan has played great all year long as the middle blocker. Freshman Bailee Huizenga has solidified her spot as the starting opposite. Bears also have two vets in setter Alyssa Jensen and libero Maddy Kerr.

My pick for the Cal Volleyball X-factor in my season preview was Ashten Smith-Gooden. The redshirt sophomore and former top 5 ranked prospect in the country has slowly been reintegrated into the lineup. She had 14 kills against Grand Canyon last weekend but has not cracked the lineup against better competitions.

Bears still covet that reliable outside hitter who can be counted on for key kills - one of Haynes, Smith-Gooden, and Christina Alftin (2.69 kills per set) really need to raise her game to the next level.

12th ranked Stanford (6-2) has dropped matches to San Diego and Purdue (ranked 20th) on the year. They were also inexplicably pushed to a 5th set by Cal Poly in a home match. Against common opponents, Stanford swept St. Mary and Pacific this past weekend.

Stanford still have two talented hitters in Inky Ajanaku and the super super tall 6’8” Merete Lutz. They are playing two setters in senior Kelsey Humphreys and freshman Jenna Gray. Cardinal does have a freshman libero in Morgan Hentz so maybe their backline play can be shaken by the Cal home crowd.

In case you missed it - Carli Lloyd Night:

Cal Volleyball honored their first Indoor Volleyball Olympian in USA Calympian and Rio 2016 Bronze medalist in Carli Lloyd with a Carli Lloyd Night two weekends ago.

Carli Lloyd gave an emotional address to the crowd.

I don’t know why Carli was shocked (she clearly doesn’t read CGB or realizes that she’s in our CGB Hall of Fame) that she’s an important part of Cal Volleyball history and followed closely by many Cal fans in her Italian and USA National Team careers. Kudos to Cal Volleyball to honor Carli and hopefully recapture those Golden years of not too distant past when the Bears were on the cusp of national championships.

The 2016 season will not see the Golden Bears win their first NCAA championships in volleyball. However, despite just a 6-4 non-conference record, the Bears can continue to improve and hopefully make a run at a return to the NCAA tournament. Even if a ~0.500 record in Pac-12 play will be a very tough task to achieve.

After the Big Spike, Bears will travel up to Oregon on Friday for a match against No.24 Oregon Ducks at 7 pm PT. Free live video stream is available for that contest.