Cal Volleyball (10-1, 0-1 in Pac-12) may no longer have a perfect record, but they should have the confidence that their perfect start to the season was no fluke. Against the top ranked team in the country, Cal Volleyball was nearly just as good for the majority of this exciting match in front of a large, loud home crowd that is apparently the 2nd largest crowd in Cal Volleyball history.
No. 1 #Stanford takes the Big Spike, 3-1 (20-25, 25-17, 27-25, 25-19), in front of an announced crowd of 4,178 - the second-largest crowd in @CalVolleyball history.— Sam Weismann (@SamWeisSports) September 27, 2019
The largest #Cal volleyball crowd ever? Just 11 more, at 4,189. pic.twitter.com/kfiGkIr60x
The defending NCAA champs Stanford (7-2, 1-0 in Pac-12) prevailed 20-25, 25-17, 27-25, 25-19, but the Bears made them earn it. Cardinal could not stop the Bears’ inside attacks, as Preslie Anderson has a team high 11 kills while fellow middle blocker Lauren Forte had an emphatic 9 kills. While Mima Mirkovic was limited to just 7 kills on 0.091 hitting, Maddie Haynes picked up some of the slack by earning 10 kills.
Bears were able to slow down Stanford star Kathryn Plummer but not stop her. Plummer ended the match with 22 kills.
In addition to the first set, Cal had a 3 point lead in both sets 3 and 4 but just could not hold on. A few misread tip by Stanford or Cal communication miscues were enough to allow Stanford back. Nonetheless, this is still just the first set of Pac-12 play and the Golden Bears will hopefully clean these up as they battle in the Pac and likely into the postseason.
Cal will next host Washington State, a surprise winner over Washington earlier today, on Saturday afternoon at 2pm PT.
Right up there with the 2002 Big Game for me was the home Big Spike in 2003. On October 11th, 2003, the then 9th ranked Cal Volleyball beats 4th ranked Stanford in 5 sets (30-22, 29-31, 28-30, 30-28, 15-9) behind Mia Jerkov’s 31 kills. This was a tremendous Cal victory, the first one over their rival since 1982; this win was also one of those memorable sports moment for me during my college years that solidified my loyalty to Cal for life.
The streak that ended in 2003 was a 40 match winning streak by Stanford. By comparison, Stanford’s current winning streak against the Golden Bears is only at 14 matches. Nonetheless, there are some similarities between then and now.
Granted, Cal was already a NCAA postseason team in 2002 and had battled Stanford hard the previous year. Nonetheless, the 2003 win over Stanford really launched the Cal Volleyball program to its best run ever in program history for the next 10 years. Golden Bears became a national championship contender and made every NCAA postseason between 2002 and 2013.
Unfortunately, Cal Volleyball has struggled since the 2014 season. Bears are trying to get back to the postseason and start another long streak. New head coach Sam Crosson, who was an assistant coach at Cal during those consecutive Final Four years, is trying to launch another Golden Age for the Cal Volleyball Golden Bears.
So far so good in Crosson’s first year at the helm of Cal Volleyball. Despite another losing record season in 2018, Cal Volleyball showed a lot of potential last year under interim head coach Jennifer Dorr. Dorr’s Cal team beat a number of top 25 teams in conference play but also lost several heartbreakers in the 5th set. The 2019 Cal Volleyball team returned basically the entire starting lineup and even kept Dorr as an assistant head coach on the sidelines (Crosson and Dorr were both on the Cal staff under former head coach Rich Feller and are great friends off the court as well). Crosson would be the first to admit just how good of a situation he’s walking into in his return to Berkeley.
It is of little surprise that Cal Volleyball (10-0) has had a great non-conference season despite playing only one match at home. With a lot of experiences playing together, Golden Bears were able to build a lot of confidence in beating some solid (though not great) opponents to be one of only two undefeated team in NCAA Division 1 Volleyball right now alongside the Baylor Bears.
In 2019, Cal Bears are able to have a much more balanced offensive attack that still features junior Mima Mirkovic as the main attacker. While Mirkovic is still the team leader in kills, Bears are getting great hitting from junior middle hitter Preslie Anderson (who was doing that last year), senior opposite Bailee Huizenga, senior outside hitter Maddie Haynes (a lot more consistent), and a finally healthy redshirt senior Savannah Rennie. Junior setter Isabel Potter is efficient in running the new Cal offense, particularly in improving her consistency. Sophomore setter Jade Blevins also has shown flashes of brilliance as a capable backup. Cal’s hitting is so good in 2019 that Preslie Anderson, in fact, has the best hitting percentage in the entire country right now at 0.523.
BIG things happening in #OurHaas@PreslieA and the unbeaten No. 2️⃣1️⃣ Bears take on No. 1️⃣ Stanford Thursday at 7:30pm in the #BigSpike— Cal Volleyball (@CalVolleyball) September 24, 2019
️ ➡️ https://t.co/w1YA8vZvTt#GoBears // #EarnIt // #OneDayBetter pic.twitter.com/F4ruozw99b
Defensively, Cal’s has solid blocking in the middle with Anderson, Rennie, and redshirt sophomore Lauren Forte (who lead the Bears with 108 blocks last year). Senior libero Emma Smith is reliable in the backrow. Bears’ defense also benefit from the great all-around game of Mima Mirkovic (who is often the team leader in digs for the match), who hones her all-around game with the Cal Beach Volleyball squad in the spring.
Cal’s group of seniors certainly have not has anywhere close to the on-the-court success as their counterparts across the net in the Big Spike. Nonetheless, it is great to see all of them stepping up to be big contributors of this 10-0 start.
One also cannot underestimate the mere presence of a healthy Savannah Rennie for this Golden Bears team. Rennie, who has overcome both a liver transplant and a subsequent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer) due to the transplant, is an inspiration to everyone, whether you play volleyball or not. Despite her medical treatments, Rennie has found the volleyball court to be her refuge. Most of her teammates have watched her struggle, persevere, and beat her healthy issues first hand. So far in the 2019 season, Rennie is finally healthy enough to showcase her tremendous natural talent.
If you somehow does not know about Rennie’s story, you can watch this NCAA interview below.
Between a liver transplant and beating cancer, Savannah Rennie has been through more adversity since arriving on campus at @UCBerkeley than most people will endure in their lifetime.— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) September 24, 2019
Finally healthy, Rennie shares her story back to @CalVolleyball with @michellachester.#NCAAVB pic.twitter.com/o1VAjn1Vab
Or the Pac-12 Networks story on Rennie.
Standing in Cal’s way is those Stanford Cardinal - who has maintained at the forefront as perennial national championship contender despite getting a new head coach 3 years ago in Kevin Hambly. Under Hambly, Stanford has made the Final Four for the past 3 seasons - winning it all both in 2016 and 2018.
Core pieces of those championships winning squads are still around in senior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer and senior setter Jenna Gray. Fellow seniors Madeleine Gates and Audriana Fitzmorris on offense and libero Morgan Hentz on defense are also a part of that special Stanford class that won their freshman year. Stanford, also has younger stars like freshman Kendall Kipp and sophomore Holly Campbell to continue their success beyond this season.
No doubt about it, Stanford Volleyball has played one of the toughest schedule possible this out-of-conference season. Despite boasting wins over No.1 Nebraska (on the road, No.3 Texas (at home), No.4 Penn State (on the road), and No.7 Florida (on the road), Stanford has also dropped matches to No.8 Minnesota (on the road) and No.12 BYU (at home - their last match). There is a chance that Stanford will actually be too battle tested to both possibly overlook Cal (despite the Bears being ranked for the first time in 6 years) or be too tired for the gauntlet that is Pac-12 conference play. Stanford’s loss to BYU in 4 sets from Maples Pavilion last Saturday was the first home loss for them under Hambly.
This might be the perfect storm (figuratively, not like the actual one corresponding to the Cal Football win at Washington) for Cal Volleyball to pull off a major home upset to reignite the program in the first year of the Sam Crosson era. Yes, I give you permission to go rush the court should the Golden Bears triumph on Thursday night.
Big Spike: No.21 Cal Volleyball (10-0) vs. No.1 Stanford Cardinal (6-2)
Where: Haas Pavilion (Berkeley, CA)
When: Thursday, 7:30 pm PT
TV: Pac-12 Network
LET’S SHOCK THE VOLLEYBALL WORLD!