Bears Battle No. 22 Bruins, Fall In Four
LOS ANGELES – California fought No. 22 UCLA in the season-opener, taking an exhilarating second set before falling 22-25, 39-37, 20-25, 16-25 Friday afternoon at Pauley Pavilion.
Freshman Lydia Grote had a dominant collegiate debut for the Golden Bears, racking up a team-high 18 kills on .654 hitting to go along with three blocks. Fellow freshman Katarina Pantovic was also impressive in her first appearance wearing the Blue and Gold, collecting 14 kills and falling just short of a double-double with nine digs. Sophomore Sydney Liliomaiava added a career high 13 kills and hit .417 as three Bears had double digit finishes.
One of four freshmen to start in their NCAA opener, Lexi Gruszczynski led California with 14 digs as the libero. Junior Gabby Bellizzi dug out nine balls for the Bears and had two separate five-point runs on the service line.
The Bears are without their top three hitters and top two blockers from the 2019 season after graduations and transfers, including AVCA Pacific North All-Region outside hitter Mima Mirkovic, who is playing with the Cal beach volleyball program this spring.
HOW IT HAPPENED
After falling behind by seven points in the first set, Cal battled back to pull within three, 24-21, on a kill from Pantovic. The Bears made it five straight out of a UCLA timeout, all coming on a Bellizzi service run, before the Bruins closed out the set 25-22.
Cal got in a hole again early in the second set, trailing 18-11, but used a second run of three straight and 12 of 16 extended to tie the set at 18. The teams battled from there with neither being able to take more than a two-point lead on the way to overtime in the set.
The Bears had eight set points that UCLA was able to fight off as Lilomaiava tallied five overtime kills. After trailing 36-35, two kills from Lilomaiava and two Bruin errors gave the Bears a 39-37 win in the wild second set.
The young Cal side continued to battle, fighting back from deficits in both the third and fourth sets, but ran out of gas down the stretch as UCLA closed out the match.
Cal wraps up the two-match opening weekend against No. 22 UCLA with a 12 noon first serve from Pauley Pavilion on Sunday, Jan. 24. The match will be available via UCLA live stream.