Above the Net: Cal is No. 1

Middle hitter Shannon Hawari returns to anchor the Bears' blocking regiment.
Andreas Attai/File
Middle hitter Shannon Hawari returns to anchor the Bears' blocking regiment.

Scheduling, strategy and a top ranking

Two years ago, the Cal volleyball team ventured to Hawaii to play some of the nation’s premier teams in the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic.

The Bears left the island with two losses to Texas and Saint Louis and a big upset win over host Hawaii. Since then, Feller has opted not to play a tough preseason slate.

While Cal was playing the likes to Florida International University this weekend, the two teams ranked the best in the land — Penn State and USC — were playing each other.

The Bears was invited to that tournament hosted by the Nittany Lions, but Feller declined.

“In the first weekend (of the season), we’d miss the first two or three days of class,” Feller said. “I just really didn’t want to fly across the country to do that.”

The 13th-year head coach went on to explain that the Pac-12 will test the Bears enough and the team doesn’t need a tough preseason to see where it stands.

One can’t help but think that there’s a little bit of strategy involved, too.

Penn State, then No. 1, got upset by then-No. 16 Oregon over the weekend. The then-No. 2 Trojans dropped a five-set decision to the Nittany Lions. Since the two top-rated squads posted losses, both dropped a slot in the national rankings.

The Bears, meanwhile, were able to rise from third to first in the nation by simply not losing this weekend. With the kind of competition Feller’s squad faced in the Cal Molten Classic, there was very little possibility the Bears would even drop a set, let alone a match.

The decision to play a weaker preseason may help down the road when it comes time for NCAA tournament seeding. Fewer losses always looks good.

For now, however, the focus is on getting the team comfortable playing together, especially since junior setter Elly Barrett is stepping into the starting role and the squad has a smattering of highly-touted freshmen.

“I really like having matches that are a little less pressure so we can play around a little bit and really see who’s going to do something,” Feller said.

Johnson Switching Positions

In 2010, Correy Johnson playing primarily as a right side hitter, boasted a .327 hitting average and earned an AVCA All-America honorable mention — both more than respectable accomplishments for a sophomore.

So why not change her position?

Johnson alternated between right side attacker and middle hitter this past weekend. She claims to have been training as a middle since spring, and also played that position during her stint on the USA A2 squad this summer.

“I feel like it’s easy,” Johnson said of her new spot. “The way I run right side, it’s very much like it’s a middle just playing right side, so it makes it a lot easier to move back and forth.”

The Winter Park, Fla., native was more than effective in her new role this weekend. Johnson was named MVP of the Cal Molten Classic, highlighted by a match-high 12 kills against FIU on Saturday, in which she hit .500.

“I think it’s just going to be an ongoing evolution this year,“ coach Rich Feller said. “We obviously know that Correy (Johnson) can do a couple different things.”

But even though Johnson appears to have found a new home in the middle, that isn’t to say she’s at all opposed to further position changes.

“Wherever the team needs me is where I feel most comfortable,” Johnson said.