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Bears Host No. 8 Utes

Jan 28, 2021

Cardboard Cutouts | Match Notes (PDF) | Live Stats

BERKELEY --  California volleyball returns to Haas Pavilion and Berkeley for the first time in 438 days this weekend with a two-match Pac-12 Conference series against No. 8 Utah.  

The Golden Bears and Utes are set for a 6 p.m. first serve inside Haas on Friday, Jan. 29 along with a 12 noon start on Sunday, Jan. 31. The matches will not be available via live stream, but live stats will be available on Cal is coming off an opening weekend at then-No. 22 UCLA in Los Angeles a week ago, as several new Bears saw their first action at the collegiate level. 

Four freshmen started their first matches at the NCAA level, including Lydia Grote, who recorded 18 kills on .654 hitting in her Bear debut. Fellow freshman Katarina Pantovic recorded 14 kills and nine digs in her debut wearing the Blue and Gold, and she leads the team with 24 kills through the first two matches.  

The Utes opened their 2020-21 campaign with two straight set victories over Arizona last weekend and moved up two spots to No. 8 in the AVCA Division I Women's Volleyball Poll this week. Utah was picked by the conference's coaches as the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 as they return two All-Americans in Dani Drews and Kenzie Koerber. Drews is the reigning conference Player of the Week after recording 28 kills on .317 hitting in the two matches to open the season. Utah leads the all-time series, 12-10.

Freshman Katarina Pantovic had a strong start to her Cal career on the road at then-No. 22 UCLA last weekend. Pantovic opened the season with 14 kills and nine digs in the opener, falling just short of a double-double in her collegiate debut. The Vancouver, British Columbia native followed with 10 kills on Sunday in Los Angeles and leads the team with 24 kills after the first week. Her 3.43 kills per set average currently ranks eighth in the conference and 94th nationally through two matches. Pantovic also ranks second on the team with 16 digs after the first two matches of the season. 

Lydia Grote got off to a strong start in her Cal career, collecting 18 kills on .654 hitting to go along with three blocks in her debut at then-No. 22 UCLA on Jan. 22. The 18 kills sets a new mark for most kills by a freshman in her debut in Cal volleyball history. Through the first two matches of the season, Grote ranks third in the conference and 45th in the country with a .429 hitting percentage. The native of Burbank, Calif. is second on the team with 20 kills after the first two matches of the 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.

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.

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