Blackbirds likely won’t be singing after facing top-ranked Bears

Ranked as the best team in the nation, the No. 1 Cal volleyball team will spend its second straight weekend playing teams from the other end of the spectrum.

The Bears will make their longest trip of the regular season as they travel to Charlotsville, Va., to compete in the Holiday Inn Jefferson Cup.

Cal (3-0) will kick things off Friday morning with a 10 a.m. match against Long Island (0-3), and follow it up with a 4 p.m. tilt versus host Virginia (2-1). The squad will close out its weekend by playing East Carolina (1-0) on Saturday. All three matches will be the first ever meeting between the schools.

The Bears shouldn’t be feeling too much pressure when they square off against Long Island, as the Blackbirds have yet to win a set in the 2011 season. Virginia should prove slightly more of a challenge, though the Cavaliers still dropped a 3-1 decision to Western Michigan last weekend.

Coach Rich Feller’s club likely won’t see any special on Saturday, as its finish its weekend against an East Carolina team that went 2-30 in 2010.

Cal opened its season last weekend with nine straight-set wins in three matches, bumping themselves from the No. 3 team in the nation to No. 1. However, the Bears never started sharp, and allowed Florida International to jump out to a 9-7 lead in the opening set of the weekend’s final match.

“We started out pretty slow last weekend, so our focus this week has been going hard from point one,” middle hitter Correy Johnson said. “I don’t feel like we weren’t preparing enough, but we just need to stay focused on being the first to five (points) and the first to ten. There’s no excuse for not starting strong in the beginning.”

Part of the “struggles” can be explained by the lack of communication among the Cal players. With the departure of setter Carli Lloyd, the 2010 Player of the Year, the Bears lost their vocal leader, a role that they are still trying to fill.

“I’m going to have to be more vocal on the court,” Johnson said.

In addition to fixing the slow starts, the Bears will get their first taste of road play this weekend.

In 2010, Cal was nearly perfect on the road, posting an 11-1 record. But with six freshmen on this year’s squad, this team’s road ability remains to be seen.

The squad will also be dealing with the pressure of holding the highest ranking in school history, even though the club claims to not be focusing on it.

“It’s great that people think we’re that good, but we haven’t earned it yet,” Johnson said. “We don’t care about what people think of us.”

And even with the ranking, the Bears don’t feel like they’ve really accomplished anything yet.

“Last year I felt like we always had to prove ourselves,” Johnson said. “It’s still kind of the same feeling, even with the ranking.”