COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Alyssa Jensen’s long wait to be the starting setter for Cal’s offense finally ended Friday in the Bears’ 2014 season-opener.
So naturally Jensen did her impersonation of a middle blocker.
Jensen had a team-high three blocks, while also dishing out 30 assists, as Cal defeated Southern Illinois-Edwardsville 25-18, 25-17, 25-17 on the first day of the Falcon Classic at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
While Jensen might want to leave the regular blocking duties to junior middle blockers Lillian Schonewise and Lara Vukasovic, the sophomore looked at ease Friday in her first career start. She led the Bears to a .293 hitting percentage while distributing an offense that featured five players with at least six kills.
“I thought Alyssa played well,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “She ran a nice offense. She’s just going to keep getting better and better and more comfortable. As her confidence builds, the team’s confidence is going to build around her.”
Freshman outside hitter Ashten Smith-Gooden had eight kills in her college debut while Schonewise, Vukasovic and freshman outside hitter Christine Alftin each added six kills. Libero Maddy Kerr registered nine digs.
Jensen spent her freshman season as the backup to Joan Caloiaro, who was an AVCA All-American honorable mention. Caloiaro has graduated, and the offense is now in Jensen’s hands.
“I was just excited, just as much as my teammates,” Jensen said. “It helped (last year) to watch how Joan was setting, see the different things she did. It allowed me to kind of settle in to college volleyball.”
The Bears have one of the top returning attackers in the Pac-12 in Higgins, who ranked ninth in kills per set with 3.52 last season. Vukasovic and Schonewise give Cal one of the top middle blocker tandems in the conference.
Smith-Gooden and Alftin were both high school All-Americans, with Smith-Gooden being ranked as the No. 5 Senior Ace by PrepVolleyball.com. Alftin was No. 51 on that list.
“Having an option at every single position allows me to be more creative,” Jensen said. “It lets me have more fun with it.”
The Bears actually fell behind 7-2 in the first set, but then scored seven straight points behind the serving of Higgins, who had never served in a match during her career before Friday. Cal used a 16-3 run to take a commanding 18-10 advantage.
The Bears had a 20-9 lead in the second set before the Cougars trimmed it to 22-17. Cal led comfortably throughout the third set.
“It was kind of a typical first match of the year,” Feller said. “It wasn’t the cleanest match but it was efficient enough. It was good to get it under our belts.”
The Bears resume play in the Falcon Classic on Saturday against Winthrop.