Cal is favorite in Big Spike and will be for some time

Jonathan Kuperberg

It was the pivotal point in a sensational season.

On Oct. 22, 2010, the Cal volleyball team went into Maples Pavilion on the Stanford campus and did more than just win a match — the squad made a statement.

The Bears’ 3-1 victory over then-No. 2 Stanford catapulted them up two spots to No. 3 in the country; even more so, the win signaled something special, something momentous, something several years in the making — the changing of the guard.

Cal is the favorite in tonight’s Big Spike and will be for some time. Compared to the Bears, Stanford is now the underdog in collegiate volleyball.

“The series is definitely a lot more competitive than ever before,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “Any kind of victory against Stanford helps cement a little more history and a little more tradition.”

The Bears swept the Cardinal last season for the first time in 31 years. They won the conference crown and reached their first national title match.
More than numbers and records, Cal was simply the most dominant team in the country for most of the year.

“Those wins were big,” Feller said. “Being able to sweep them for the first time was a big deal for us going into the NCAAs.”

That hasn’t changed much to this year, as the club has yet to drop a set and are ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Bears are one of six Pac-12 teams in the top-16, and among four in the top-six.

But even in a conference with a cornucopia of capable clubs, Cal is the cream of the crop.

And it seems like the squad is only getting better.

The Bears just keep on reloading. Last year, they lost Pac-10 Player of the Year Hana Cutura and then-junior Tarah Murrey blossomed into not only one of the best outside hitters in the conference but also one of the best players in the country. This season they lost star setter Carli Lloyd, the national Player of the Year in 2010, and replaced her with the effective and efficient Elly Barrett — a top recruit back in 2009 — who has guided the team to a spotless record and its highest ranking in program history.

Oh yeah, Cal’s freshman class is ranked No. 6 by PrepVolleyball.com.

Stanford is not longer the team in the West with biggest target on its back; that red circle is firmly planted on the Bears.

That’s fine with Feller’s squad.

“Stanford has an awesome team,” Murrey said, “(but) we’re going to … go out there with the mentality that we’re going to win.
“And we’re going to do it.”

Cal isn’t just a top team; it’s a powerhouse now.

It’s more than just a Final Four squad; it has become a championship-caliber program — year in and year out.

The Bears came a few plays away from winning the crucial second set against Penn State in the national championship match in 2010 — a set that would have changed the match around and just might have given them the momentum they needed to seize the crown.

They came close.

They’ve felt the roar of the Nittany Lions for four years straight now, and the time for the Bears to bite back beckons.

The road begins tonight.