Top-ranked Bears host No. 2 Cardinal to open Pac-12 play

Tarah Murrey (4) leads the No. 1 Bears as they face bitter rival Stanford in the Big Spike.
Emma Lantos/Senior Staff
Tarah Murrey (4) leads the No. 1 Bears as they face bitter rival Stanford in the Big Spike.

In 2010, the Cal volleyball team took a major step in asserting its status as the team to beat in the conference by sharing the title with Stanford.

In 2011, the team will be looking to take it one step further.

The No. 1 Bears (10-0) will play host Tuesday at 7 p.m. to No. 2 Stanford (6-0) at Haas Pavilion in what will be the first match of the Pac-12 season for both clubs. It will be the fourth match in history that both clubs are ranked in the top-five.

“It’s too early in the season for it to be ‘do or die,’” coach Rich Feller said. “But it can set the tone for the Pac-12 start, and a victory always means a lot for that.”

In 2010, Cal swept the season series for the first time in 31 years. Both matches went four sets (21-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-16 at Stanford on Oct. 22 and 26-28, 25-17, 25-17, 25-20 on Nov. 19 at Haas Pavilion) But despite winning both tilts, the squad still had to share the conference crown with Stanford.

Still, Cal cites those two wins as having been a major factor in its eventual run to the national championship game.

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

Both squads lost major contributors in 2010 due to graduation. Cal setter Elly Barrett has spent 2011 trying to fill the role left open by the departure of Carli Lloyd, the 2010 National Player of the Year. Stanford has been looking to replace outside hitter Alix Klineman, the 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year, and setter/outside hitter Cassidy Lichtman, a two-time AVCA First Team All-American.

Senior Tarah Murrey, who currently leads the Bears in kills with 103 on the year, claims that the squad isn’t even thinking about what happened in 2010.

“That’s last year, so we’re not at all worried about that,” Murrey said. “We just go out there and play one match at a time. You always want to step out there and say, ‘we’re number one,’ and have the confidence to play and always win.”

Though both squads are boasting flawless records, their roads into Tuesday’s matchup couldn’t be more different.

Of Stanford’s six tilts, three have been against top-25 teams, including a 3-1 win over four-time defending national champion Penn State, in which standout sophomore Rachel Williams finished with 22 kills and 12 digs.

Of the 10 teams that Cal has faced in 2011, only three currently have winning records. The only opportunity that the Bears have had to face elite players have come in scrimmages.

“In practice, we play very high competition in playing against each other,” Murrey said. “We have a lot of work to do, but the more practices we have and the more matches we play, we will be the best team (in the Pac-12).”

Cal will likely see the return of outside hitter Correy Johnson, who missed Saturday’s match against Georgetown due to a sore hip. The team claims that Johnson’s injury is minimal, and missing time Saturday night was just a precautionary measure.

Fatigue could potentially be an issue for the Bears, as they are currently in the midst of hosting seven home games in eight days. But having competed in four matches this past weekend, playing just one comes as a relief.

“It’s a lot easier to prepare and play just one match,” Murrey said. “We love to play Stanford. They have an awesome team, but we’re going to go out there with the mentality that we’re going to win. And we’re going to do it.”