Spring break is just around the corner, and what better way to spend it than at the sunny beaches of Hawaii resting, relaxing and soaking up the sun. Feeling that Hawaiian breeze and salty sea spray just wisps you away to paradise. What a vacation it would be.
The Cal beach volleyball team is in fact traveling to Hawaii this week, but the expectations are clear.
“It’s more of a business trip than a vacation,” said junior captain Ainsley Radell.
The Bears begin a three-day slate in Hawaii on Thursday as they travel to the islands for the Hawaii Invitational at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. There will be some tougher competition for the blue and gold this weekend than they saw last weekend at UC Davis, so it will be a good test for them as to where they are as a team and how they have progressed thus far.
Thursday will be the toughest day of the season so far for the Bears in the level of competition. They begin the day against tournament host and No. 9 Hawaii. In terms of rankings, Cal and Hawaii are neck and neck, so this is expected to be a great battle between two beach volleyball powerhouses. Hawaii will be coming in with home-court advantage and more familiarity in terms of the conditions, but it will be interesting to see if that is a factor. Nonetheless, Cal has a chance to pull off an upset and steal one on the home team’s sands right off the bat.
After their matchup against the No. 9 team in the country, it does not get any easier for the Bears on Thursday. They are then set to face the now-No. 3 in the nation: the TCU Horned Frogs. TCU has started the season 9-0 and has already beaten several ranked opponents in the top 20, including then-No. 3 Florida State. This will be a tough test for the Bears, especially coming off of a match against another excellently ranked opponent. These are the types of challenges the team enjoys and embraces, though, and it would be an exciting moment if it could pull off a win.
“Everyone is super excited to play against some tough competition and showcase what we’ve been working on throughout the preseason,” Radell said.
After what is expected to be an exciting and challenging two matches Thursday, Cal faces two unranked opponents Friday before heading into bracket play Saturday. It faces Nebraska to start the day, a team who has gone 4-4 to start the season and faced no notable teams other than No. 17 Florida International University, who fell to five sets to none. The Bears end their Friday with another matchup against UC Davis, but this time on neutral sands. The Bears look for another win against the Aggies in hopes of ending pool play on a high note.
It is important for Cal to come in and take care of its two Friday matches handily. The Bears should plow through both Nebraska and Davis to enter Saturday with at least two wins under their belt. However, the Thursday games are more ambiguous. The results of the matches Thursday and Friday determine who the Bears will play Saturday.
“TCU has historically been a good program, so they’re just going to test us in new ways,” Radell said. “Hawaii has also been historically a really good team, so we have to stay focused. … We have a lot of potential to do really well: if we do what we’ve been taught the past six months, we’re going to be great.”
Cal really has a chance to make some noise this weekend in Hawaii and shake up the top-10 rankings if it manages some wins. Hawaii has already proven that it can be beaten as it has incurred losses to No. 1 UCLA and No. 8 Stanford this season. As for No. 3 TCU, it will probably be the tougher of the two Thursday matches for Cal. And though the Horned Frogs are unbeaten thus far, who’s to say Cal can’t be the first team to hand them a loss in 2022?
No. 10 Cal will be tested this weekend on the Hawaiian sands, but the team is more than prepared for its two top-10 matchups. This is a great chance to show the depth and talent this Bears team has. If it brings the intensity and fire it had started the season with, there is always a chance for an upset. Cal will therefore look to build on its hot 5-1 start this weekend in Hawaii.
Emery Goulet covers beach volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].