- Cal def. Rice 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 29-27)
- Cal moves to 6-1, Rice falls to 5-4
- Tudor Fieldhouse, Houston, Texas
- Attendance: 435
- Match Stats
A second huge match on the day from Mima Mirkovic, combined with Rice’s struggle in the service game, led the Cal Golden Bears to a 3-1 win over Rice in an emotional back-and-forth match in Houston, Texas.
After 10 kills and .444 hitting in the Golden Bears’ morning match against Incarnate Word, Mirkovic had 16 kills and hit .419 in the afternoon against the defending Conference USA tournament runners-up Rice. Mirkovic also had 17 digs against Rice, trailing only libero Jessica Gaffney for the team lead (23).
Her big hitting day was the headline of a modest .270 team performance from Cal, who were often stifled by Rice’s block. The bold owls front line had 13 blocks to just 9 for Cal, standing strong against one of the hardest-hitting teams in the country. Besides the blocks, Rice touched almost everything that Cal put over the net, which helped lead their team to 52 digs as well.
Both teams had trouble with their serving. Cal had 9 service errors and Rice had 14 – 4 of which came from Julianna Dole, who was used almost exclusively as a service specialist. She led the Owls in aces last season, and did have 2 in this match, but Rice coach Genny Volpe did point to the service errors as the team’s undoing.
That was highlighted in extra points in the final set. Rice held the momentum for most of the frame, even with 7 service errors in that set alone. Cal made a push late, and just as Rice looked like they were ready to surge back (down 27-28), Kassidy Muse served into the net and Cal finished the match with a Christine Alftin kill.
Alftin had 13 kills, and Carmen Annevelink had 11 for the Golden Bears.
Cal was more powerful throughout the match, but Rice was crafty for their part, using a variety of shots to score on Cal. That included 4 kills from setter Madison McDaniel on 9 swings to go with her 44 sets in the game.
Seyvion Waggoner (14 kills, 7 errors, 42 swings, .167 percentage) and Nicole Lennon (12 kills, 6 errors, 42 attacks, .143 percentage) led the team in scoring. Kyle McCay chipped in 14.5 total points as well on 9 kills, 5 block assists, and a solo block.
Grace Morgan led the aforementioned block for the Owls. She had 3 block assists and 3 solo blocks in the match, and also hit .400.
This was Rice’s first game back after being unable to return home to Houston as a result of the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey.
Courtesy Cal Athletics:
BERKELEY – Freshman Mima Mirkovic has won a pair of bronze medals as an international beach volleyball player, so she wasn’t about to let an adverse environment at Tudor Fieldhouse cause her any stress on Friday night.
Mirkovic made a handful of clutch plays down the stretch to help the Cal volleyball team outlast Rice 25-20, 20-25, 25-19, 29-27 at the Rice Invitational. That capped off a terrific day for Mirkovic, who also had 10 kills earlier in the day as the Bears defeated Incarnate Word 25-15, 25-17, 25-23.
“Mima is fearless,” Cal head coach Matt McShane said. “Not only is she fearless, but she is a great human being. All the players like her. She makes us better on the court and off the court. She’s a fun person to be around.”
Mirkovic, who also plays for the Bears’ beach volleyball team, won the bronze medal at the FIVB U21 World Beach Volleyball Championships in Nanjing, China last summer. The previous year, she took the bronze at the FIVB U19 World Championships.
“I’ve played in stadiums with thousands of screaming fans and a bunch of hecklers,” Mirkovic said. “There’s so much pressure, so I’m probably not as nervous as a typical freshman. And I think playing with the older girls on our team helps me so much because they put so much confidence in me and believe in me.”
The Bears, who have won seven in a row for their longest winning streak since winning the first seven matches of the 2013 season, led 20-17 in the fourth set only to watch the Owls come back for a 23-21 lead. After a Cal timeout, Mirkovic put down a kill to cut the deficit to one. She then came up with the play of the match, lunging into the Bears’ bench to keep a ball alive, and it ended as a Cal point when Rice made a hitting error. That tied the fourth set at 23-23.
“I wasn’t going to let that point end even if I had to break my legs,” Mirkovic said.
The Owls then had two set points that were staved off by Mirkovic kills. The Bears followed with two set points of their own that Rice had answers for, but Cal closed it out on a kill by senior Christine Alftin.
“That was a huge win over a home team in their tournament,” McShane said. “They wanted to win badly and fought really hard. To be down 23-21 in the fourth and come back and win is a huge confidence boost for us.”
Confidence is certainly growing for the Bears, who are already just two wins shy of equaling their win total from last season. Cal hasn’t lost since dropping its season-opener to UC Irvine, and the Bears are exhibiting an ability to win matches in different ways.
“Winning matches like this will make us so much better because it gets us used to being down a few points and still coming back to win,” Mirkovic said. “In our previous games this season, we never really were exposed to the kind of adversity we had tonight. We were in Rice’s gym and a hostile environment. It’s good to be exposed to that.”
Mirkovic finished with 16 kills and 17 digs against the Owls while senior libero Jessica Gaffney had a career-high 23 digs. Alftin had 13 kills and nine digs.
Alftin also had 10 kills against Incarnate Word while senior Antzela Dempi added nine kills and two aces.
After winning the first two sets comfortably against the Cardinals, the Bears were forced to mount a comeback in the third. Incarnate Word established a 13-7 lead but Cal whittled away at the deficit and finally went in front when freshman middle blocker Preslie Anderson crushed an overpass to give the Bears a 23-22 advantage. After the Cardinals briefly tied it back up, Cal scored the final two points to close out the match.
The Bears close out play at the Rice Invitational on Saturday morning against Louisiana at 9 a.m. PT.
Courtesy Rice Athletics:
HOUSTON – A furious late comeback attempt by the Rice Owls volleyball team came up just short in a 3-1 loss (20-25, 25-20, 19-25, 27-29) to California Friday evening at Tudor Fieldhouse.
Rice (5-4) hit just .191 for the match while Cal (7-1) won their seventh straight match by hitting .270.
Freshmen Seyvion Waggoner (14 kills) and Nicole Lennon (12 kills) led the Owls on the offensive end while senior setter Madison McDaniel just missed out on a double-double with 44 assists and nine digs. Junior McKay Kyle and sophomore Grace Morgan each totaled six blocks apiece in the loss, part of a 13.0 team blocks performance by the Owls.
After dropping the opening set 25-20, Rice evened the match with a 25-20 victory of their own in set two, largely due to the defensive performance and limiting the Bears to a match-low .028 hitting percentage. The two teams played to 11 ties and five lead changes in set three before Cal prevailed 25-19.
In the fourth and final set the Owl rallied from a 20-17 deficit to take a 23-21 lead but Cal answered with consecutive points to tie at 23-23. Rice then had two set points but were staved off by Cal, only to see the two teams flip roles with the Owls holding off match points. However, consecutive points from the Bears broke a 27-27 tie to end the match.
The Owls will conclude the Rice Adidas Invitational I tomorrow afternoon when they host Incarnate Word at 4 p.m.
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