Bears see no mercy in City of Angels

Trailing USC two sets to none, the No. 1 Cal volleyball team found itself down 14-13, looking for any opportunity to claw its way back into the match.

When the Trojans sent over a ball that should have been an easy dig for libero Robin Rostratter, the Bear’s defensive leader got her feet tangled with teammate Elly Barrett’s, and the two could only helplessly watch as the ball gently fall to the floor.

The play would epitomize a weekend in which nothing could go right for Cal, a team that came into the weekend having won 39 of 40 sets but lost six of seven on the road trip.

On its first conference road trip of 2011, the Bears suffered their first two losses of the season and won just one set. The team was swept by No. 12 USC (25-23, 25-20, 25-22) on Friday night at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, and following that performance with a 3-1 loss at the hands of No. 7 UCLA (25-17, 25-20, 19-25, 25-15) on Saturday.

After trouncing No. 4 Washington in straight sets a week prior, USC completely embarrassed the Bears (13-2, 3-2 in the Pac-12), led by outside hitter Alex Jupiter’s 16-kill performance. Cal outside hitter Tarah Murrey, who looked sluggish in warm ups, was able to notch 14 kills and 15 digs, but also committed nine hitting errors and only managed a .122 hitting percentage for the match.

“We let our whole game slide,” coach Rich Feller said. “We didn’t set the ball very well, and we really didn’t make all the smart choices. The passing was spotty enough that we never were able to get into a rhythm.”

Murrey’s stat line, however, looks fantastic in comparison to right side hitter Correy Johnson’s. USC (9-3, 4-1) had the Winter Park, Fla., native’s number all game, effectively neutralizing her signature slide play to the tune of 3 kills and 2 errors in 19 attempts, for an astonishingly low .053 attack percentage.

“We know we’re not the best team right now, and we’re just going to have to work hard every day to get to that point,” Johnson said.

Cal didn’t find much more success on Saturday. The Bears opened up the tilt with a 6-2 lead, but an emphatic block by the Bruins (11-2, 4-1) swung the momentum in their favor. A Tabi Love kill sealed the set at 25-17, a frame in which the Bears’ offense only managed 13 kills and had 11 errors.

“When one little negative thing occurred, it would snowball and allow some other things to occur,” Feller said.

The Bears found some life in set three, jumping out to a 9-6 lead. Cal would later take control of the set with three kills and a UCLA attack error to push the lead to 14-8. Finally, an error by UCLA’s Rachel Kidder would give the Bears their only set win of the weekend at 25-19.

Cal then played some of its worst volleyball in the final frame, as chants of “overrated” rained down from the John Wooden Center. As a team, the Bears hit .149 for the match, only featuring two players over .200. Two Cal players, including Johnson, had negative percentages.

“We preach that whether you win or lose, you need to learn,” Feller said. “Losing helps you look at your weaknesses more critically than winning does. This is the perfect time to rejuvenate and regenerate.”