Setting The Standard
"I want to exceed expectations and do something that Cal Beach Volleyball has never done before."
That's what team co-captain Kate Bierly stated as a goal for the upcoming 2022 season. And it seems even more obtainable now after it was announced that the NCAA Beach Volleyball Championship will be doubling in size from eight to 16 teams for this upcoming season.
This is the ninth season in program history, but Cal has never been one of the eight teams that has headed to Gulf Shores, Alabama for the NCAA Championship. The Bears have a great shot to change that this season.
"I'm really excited heading into this spring season," head coach Meagan Owusu said. "We are a completely new team and new staff. There's a lot of unknowns, but after a full offseason I feel confident that we can do some damage."
Cal has been in the top-12 of every AVCA Coaches Poll since April 23, 2018, a span of 1,114 straight days ending with the final poll of the 2021 season when the Bears were ranked No. 11.
However, this team has a decidedly different look. Graduated is a sterling class that has four players ranked on the school's all-time top-10 list for individual wins: Caroline Schafer (66, 3rd), Alexia Inman (64, 5th), Maddie Micheletti (63, T-6th) and Jordan Polo (45, 10th).
In their place, the Bears welcome eight newcomers, including four transfers and four freshmen. The Bears will feature two AVCA All-Americans from last season, returner Mima Mirkovic and newcomer Ana Costa. Costa joins the Bears after winning Atlantic Sun Player of the Year honors for Stetson last season. Cal also welcomes transfers Natalie Martin (LSU), Lexi McKeown (Florida State) and Ashley Delgado (Tulane) as well as a stellar freshman class that has two A1 National Team Players in Alex Young-Gomez and Ella Sears in addition to standouts Alena Korobko and Ella Dreibholz.
"It's a really cool dynamic," Owusu said. "We have 11 returners that have had experience as part of our program. They've been able to provide insight and leadership into how to be a successful student-athlete at Cal. We also have this unique perspective of these transfers who have been student-athletes for some time, just at different institutions, so they're able to provide leadership as well. Then we look at the freshmen who have been some of the top beach volleyball players in the country and have played at an extremely high level, so they're providing their own form of leadership. I think it's a unique group in that we can all learn from each other."
With so many unique perspectives on the team from so many different backgrounds, the Bears are spending a lot of time focusing on building team culture. They also spent the fall season focusing on improving as individuals, playing with different partners and being prepared to be flexible.
"Our philosophy is that we can learn from our experiences," Owusu said. "Whether it's a good or bad experience, you can take something from that and learn from it."
The team is prepared to continue the process of learning and improving as the season goes along. That process will start with a team retreat to Santa Cruz to kick off spring practice. The team will spend time together, do mental training with the Cameron Institute and begin practices for what is a challenging slate, which has the Bears scheduled to play 13 opponents who finished last year in the AVCA Top-20.
"With everything going on with the pandemic, we're just grateful to be here and have the opportunity to compete," Owusu said. "Getting to Alabama is a huge goal for us, but I don't think that single result will define our season. We're looking to set a new standard for Cal Beach Volleyball."