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Golden Medals: Cal Volleyball opens Sam Crosson era; Field Hockey and Soccer also in action

4 different Cal programs are in action today (Friday)

Cal Volleyball returns just about everyone for the 2019 season.
Cal Volleyball Twitter

4 - That’s the number of Cal Athletics programs that are active on this Friday, signaling that the 2019-20 school year is definitely underway. Of course, the main opening even for Cal Athletics is the Cal Football opener vs. UC Davis on Saturday, but Cal Men’s Soccer, Field Hockey, and Volleyball will open their seasons one day earlier. Cal Women’s Soccer (1-0) will also be in action from the road this weekend with two matches from Souther California.

Cal Volleyball ready for a big bounce back year under yet another new head coach?

4 - That’s the number of different head coach for Cal Volleyball in the last 4 years. Long time head coach Rich Feller retired 3 years ago. His former associate head coach Matt McShane ended up taking over but mysteriously left the team before the end of the 2017 season. Long time Cal assistant coach Jennifer Dorr took over the program in 2018 as the interim head coach. Last December, Cal decided to hire Sam Crosson, a former assistant coach at Cal under Feller who had turned around the Cal Poly program, as the new head coach. Crosson, who apparently also applied for the Cal job the previous year, will keep his friend (they were both in Rich Feller’s staff together, during the very successful back-to-back Final Four years when the team was led by then National Player of the Year in Carli Lloyd) Dorr around on the staff.

While the coaching carousel may hopefully reach its end, the Cal Volleyball roster is returning basically the complete team from last year. In the 2018 season, Cal Volleyball finished with a 15-16 record, going 7-13 in Pac-12; it was as promising as a losing season could have been with the Golden Bears being more competitive than the previous seasons but losing a few too many close 5-set matches.

Leading the way for Cal Volleyball should again be junior Mima Mirkovic. Mirkovic, star in both indoor and beach volleyball, is that complete all-around player who is the every rotation outside hitter. Mirkovic, who had 405 kills to lead the team last year, should again have between 25-33% of the team’s total kills again. A huge step forward would be if she can strongly raise her hitting percentage from 0.227 to nearly 0.300. The most likely way for this to happen is for Cal to have stronger hitting elsewhere in the lineup.

Senior Bailee Huizenga is the second leading returning hitter for the Bears and should be the hitter on the opposite side to Mirkovic. Also in the mix for some outside hitting rotations will be Maddie Haynes, who only hit 0.126 last year. The two new freshmen this year, Deniz Milli from Turkey and Sydney Lilomaiava, may also earn some time as outside hitters. Cal also got a bunch of sophomores who may be ready to step up.

Bears are very strong down the middle with Lauren Forte (Cal’s representative on the Pac-12 all-star team that went to China this summer) and Preslie Anderson. Both were very efficient in earning their kills last year (both hit above 0.320) and while also earning nearly 100 block apiece (108 for Forte, 94 for Anderson).

An interesting question for the 2019 season would be if the Golden Bears will continue with the 6-2 rotation, playing two setters like last year, or go back to the normal 5-1 with just one setter. Both junior Isabel Potter and sophomore Jade Blevins got a lot of playing time last year. Potter got majority of the chances and recorded 844 assists while Blevins added 413 assists.

In the back row, both Emma Smith and Kat Knop are capable of being the libero. The leading player in digs last year was actually Mirkovic (with that all around game, honed by playing beach volleyball - which she continued over the summer).

That’s a lot of experiences across the entire court for a team that only lost two players (a setter turned defensive specialist in Mackenzie Albrecht and an outside hitter in Carmen Annevelink) to graduation. This is typically a harbinger for a great year.

Cal Volleyball will open plays this weekend from Fort Collins, Colorado at the Rams Classic hosted by Colorado State. Bears will play Oklahoma Sooners first. The Saturday match against host Colorado State is the only Cal match that will be streamed for the weekend, unfortunately. Bears will close the two day tournament with a 2nd Saturday match against Chicago State. Oklahoma is coming off a winning season (17-11) where they somehow missed the NCAA tournament. Colorado State also had a winning season (23-8) where they were knocked out in the NCAA 1st round. Chicago State went 9-24 last year.

This weekend is certainly an interesting litmus test for this Cal squad, who has (for the most part, outside of the beach volleyball players) been practicing under the new coaching regime since the spring. Cal will play two more tournaments on the road at UC Irvine and North Dakota State (in Fargo, ND) before a home-and-home with St. Mary’s College just before Pac-12 play starts in late September.

Big Spikes will again bookend the Pac-12 schedule with the home Big Spike being the conference opener and the road Big Spike closing the regular season. While no one is picking the Cal Bears to contend for the Pac-12 title, there is a decent amount of respect for this veteran Cal squad in the preseason poll.

Despite all the questions surrounding the team concerning the lineup, etc., Cal Volleyball is in a good position to take that next step and become a winning program yet again. I will be bullish and predict that Cal actually finish with a 0.500 Pac-12 record and make a return to the NCAA tournament in 2019.