Bears Face No. 22 Bruins At Pauley
BERKELEY -- California returns to the volleyball court for the first time in almost 14 months this weekend as the second season of the Sam Crosson era gets underway with a two-match Pac-12 series against No. 22 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.
The Golden Bears are set for a 2 p.m. first serve on Friday, Jan. 22 along with a 12 noon start on Sunday, Jan. 24 against the Bruins. Both matches will be available via live stream on CalBears.com.
After the regular fall season was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Pac-12 Conference revealed its season schedule for women's volleyball on Tuesday which consists of Conference-only matches for the 2020 campaign to be held during the winter and spring of 2021.
Cal will play a 22 Conference-match schedule, increasing from the league's standard 20-match slate. Each weekend of competition features a two-match series to take place at the same site. UCLA won both matches against California in 2019 and hold a 66-9 advantage in the all-time series.
The 2019 season began with 10 straight wins and 17 victories in the first 18 matches in Crosson's first season as head coach. Cal finished the year at 20-10, the most wins by any Golden Bear squad since 2013 and just missed out on their first NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since that same season.
Six of the 15 active players on the spring roster for the Bears are new faces since the team last took the court in November of 2019. The freshman class includes libero Tara DeSa (Mililani, Hawai'i), middle blocker Lydia Grote (Burbank, Calif.), libero Lexi Gruszczynski (San Clemente, Calif.), setter Kendall Jensen (Burbank, Calif.), outside hitter Katarina Pantovic (Vancouver, British Columbia) and opposite Sam Taumoepeau (San Diego, Calif.).
2019 AVCA Pacific North All-Region and All-Pac-12 outside hitter Mima Mirkovic is opting out of the spring indoor season and the two-way athlete will play with the Cal beach volleyball team this spring. Mirkovic is a three-year starter for the Golden Bears and is just six kills away from becoming the 17th Cal volleyball player to reach 1,000 in her career. She plans to return in the fall and complete her indoor volleyball eligibility with the Golden Bears. Another outside hitter, Arizona transfer Katie Smoot, also decided to forgo the spring indoor season to play with the Cal beach volleyball program. She will also return to the team for the fall 2021 indoor season.
O CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN
The Bears will be led by two captains during the 2020-21 season in senior setter Isabel Potter and junior libero Jessica Houghton. The experienced duo were voted captains by their teammates during the summer. Potter has played in 92 matches and 331 sets in her first three seasons at Cal, totaling 60 kills and 66 service aces while leading the team in assists. Houghton came on strong late during the 2019 campaign, playing in nine matches and 24 sets. She recorded a career high 13 digs on Nov. 27 at Washington.
Cal will get a boost in the middle with the return of redshirt sophomore Bella Bergmark, who sat out the 2019 season. Bergmark, who participated in USA volleyball tryouts back in February 2020 will see a lot of playing time with the departures of graduated All-Conference middle blockers Preslie Anderson and Lauren Forte. The Larkspur, Calif. native started eight matches as a freshman in 2018, playing in 38 sets. She recorded 36 kills and 21 blocks during her first season with the Golden Bears and is set to make an impact in the middle this season.
Freshman outside hitter Katarina Pantovic comes to Berkeley after a strong high school and club career. The Vancouver native played for both Team BC and the Canada youth national team. Pantovic was a four-year letter winner and a team most valuable player in high school, and helped Team Canada youth reach the World Championships for the first time in four decades.
Cal junior libero Jessica Houghton and freshman middle blocker Lydia Grote will get a chance to catch up with family later on this season when the Bears host Washington at Haas Pavilion. Houghton's sister, Sianna, is a libero for the Huskies, while Grote's sister, Marin, is a middle blocker for UW.