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Big Spike: Cal falls to No.2 Stanford in season finale

Cal Volleyball was the last of the Fall Olympic Sports to still be active

Mima Mirkovic, Isabel Potter, and Carmen Annevelink also get it done in the classroom, earning Academic All-District honors.
Cal Volleyball Twitter

Unfortunately, there was no historic upset from Maples Pavilion on this Saturday night. California Golden Bears fought hard again to extend their season, but Stanford was just too good.

However, despite leading the first set for the most part, Stanford fought back from 3-4 points down on 2 occasions and went on a short run to steal set 1 by a 25-23 result.

The Bears would not go away in set 2, but Stanford pulled ahead late to win 25-21.

3rd set saw Stanford making their closing move a little bit sooner, they end the Cal season at with a 25-19 set to complete the season sweep. Stanford had an undefeated run through the Pac-12 season in 2018 and will likely ascend to the No.1 ranking when the NCAA field is announced on Sunday.

For the Golden Bears, it is easy to call this 15-16 season to be a rebuilding success in the first year under head coach Jennifer Dorr, who technically took over the team with 2 weeks to go last year when previous head coach Matt McShane was put on leave and then eventually fired for an undisclosed violation. Golden Bears fought hard all year long and were winning sets, even if not matches, all year long. A few luckier bounces here and there and this would have been a postseason bound team.

The core of the squad will be back next year, led by outside hitter Mima Mirkovic. The setter position may be another battle between incumbent Isabel Potter and current freshman Jade Blevins. Bears will also have a wealth of experienced middle blockers back with Preslie Anderson and Lauren Forte leading the way. The once proud Cal Volleyball program has definitely turned around in 2018; the future is bright and a return to the postseason in 2019 is now a realistic expectation.

ROLL ON YOU BEARS!


With the disappointing announcement on Sunday night that Cal Men’s Water Polo was not selected to participate in the NCAA Championship, Cal Volleyball is now the last of the Fall Olympic Sports to be active (at least, Cal Football is going to a bowl game this year).

Despite some great moments elsewhere (Cal Men’s Soccer beating Stanford, Cal Field Hockey briefly ranked in the top 25, Garrett Corcoran making it to his 4th consecutive NCAA Championship, etc.), the best Cal story this fall in the Olympic Sports has got to be return of Cal Volleyball to relevance under new head coach Jennifer Dorr.

After a 0-5 start in the Pac-12 season, including 3 5-set losses, Cal Volleyball bounced back to split their next 14 Pac-12 matches. With just one match to go in the regular season, California Golden Bears have a very respectable 15-15 record, 7-12 in the Pac-12. 2018 is appearing to be a big year for the program to get back to being perennial NCAA postseason participant and maybe national championship contenders soon.

In fact, there is a non-zero chance for the Golden Bears to possibly make the NCAA postseason THIS YEAR. The Bears may just get enough RPI and human poll boost if they can find a way to upset No.2 Stanford Cardinal in Saturday night’s Big Spike. The Cardinal has long clinched another Pac-12 title, going 19-0 while the next best schools (USC and Oregon) are 12-7. Cal also needs a winning record to be even considered for the 64 team postseason field; so they must beat Stanford to get that.

With a RPI in the 90’s, Golden Bears may need to beat Stanford even if they had avoided another 5-set loss on Wednesday afternoon at No.23 Arizona Wildcats.

Unfortunately, this result became the Golden Bears’ 5th 5-set loss on the year, 4 of them in Pac-12 play against virtually all ranked opponents. Mima Mirkovic had a game high 21 kills in this contest to lead the Bears. Isabel Potter had 38 assists, and even more importantly 0 ball handling errors, to lead the Cal offense. Arizona jumped out to a 8-1 lead in the pivotal deciding 5th set and never looked back.

The Bears’ turnaround this year coincided with new head coach, but long time Cal assistant, Jennifer Dorr’s decision to ditch the two setter system. Once that Dorr, a standout setter from her playing career with Hawaii, allowed Potter to play all rotations rather than to take her out for a few rotations for freshman Jade Blevins, Cal Bears finally got over the hump of just competing and getting moral victories to record actual victories.

Standout in both indoor and outdoor volleyball, sophomore outside hitter Mima Mirkovic is that high volume hitter that the Bears haven’t had in quite some time. Mirkovic has 397 kills, more than 120 than the next Bear, on the season. Her season hitting percentage of 0.231 is pretty respectable when the opponents know that Cal will be going to Mima over and over and over.

Bailee Huizinga as the opposite has 265 kills for the Bears, but there were matches where she is completely contained. In the middle for the Bears, Preslie Anderson, Maddie Haynes, and Lauren Forte are the next most deadly Bears with 233, 185, and 155 kills. Forte’s emergence midseason was also a big part of the Bears’ turn around; her 106 blocks is team leading despite her not playing much in the early part of the season. Senior outside hitter Carmen Annevelink is the only other Bears with more than 100 kills at 144.

In the back row, both Kat Knop and Emma Smith have worn that opposite color libero jersey for the Bears. Senior former setter Mackenzie Albrecht has carved out a role as one of the few defensive specialist in the rotation. Nonetheless, the team leader in digs for the Bears is none other than Mirkovic, with a great all around game, with 351 digs.

As for Stanford, the 2016 NCAA champs are looking to win their 2nd national championship in 3 years. Stanford’s lone loss this year was to now No.1 (and undefeated) BYU in a 5-set thriller in their 3rd match of the year. Since then, Cardinal has merely dropped 10 sets and only 2 once to Colorado. Stanford opened their Pac-12 play with a 25-16, 25-23, 25-14 Big Spike win in Berkeley. Kathryn Plummer led the way with 14 kills in that one.

Plummer, a strong candidate for not just Pac-12 but national player of the year, has 440 kills (4.78 per set) on the year thus far. The junior gets some help from opposite Audriana Fitzmorris with 276 kills and Meghan McClure with 259 kills. Junior setter Jenna Gray, who also plays in beach volleyball and track and field (javelin), runs that efficient offense with 1193 assists.

Stanford will be hard to beat on Saturday night from Maples Pavilion, but this Golden Bears team have been fighting hard all year long. Even if they have too many stretches (particularly sets) where everything goes wrong, the Bears always fight back in the next set/match. With the season on the line, don’t be shocked if the seemingly impossible happen on Saturday night.


Big Spike: California Golden Bears at No.2 Stanford Cardinal

When: Saturday, November 24th, 2018, 7pm PT

Where: Maples Pavilion (Stanford, CA)

TV: Pac-12 Network

GO BEARS!