Cal looks to improve performance in second-half of Pac-12 season

Outside hitter Tarah Murrey is sixth in the conference with 4.29 kills per set.
Emma Lantos/Senior Staff
Outside hitter Tarah Murrey is sixth in the conference with 4.29 kills per set.

“I wasn’t happy at all.”

Those are not words usually uttered by a coach after his team sweeps a conference foe 3-0.

But, for Cal volleyball coach Rich Feller, no joy could be found after an uninspiring win over a weak opponent, epitomizing an up and down first half of the season.

The No. 2 Cal volleyball team will look to give its coach something to actually get excited about when it ventures into the desert to face off with Arizona State Friday at 7 p.m. in Tempe, and follows it up with a Saturday night tilt with Arizona.

The first half of the Bears’ season has been marked by a fair amount of inconsistency.

At times, Cal (19-2, 9-2 in the Pac-12) has looked like a legitimate national title contender. The squad boasts a balanced offense to complement a very stingy blocking corps — highlighted by convincing wins over Stanford and Washington, who were both ranked second when the Bears faced them.

This kind of play has the team sitting in second in the conference standings, boasting the top hitting percentage (.286) while allowing its opponents to hit the lowest (.122) in the Pac-12.

But at other times, the Bears have looked completely unfocused and lackluster, plagued by sloppy serving and spotty passing.

One thing, though, has been consistent for Cal: an emphasis on improving its serving and passing abilities.

“Our passing numbers are not where they need to be to be a competitive, championship-type team,” Feller said. “And our ace-to-error ratio is way off scale.”

The Bears didn’t perform well in either area in an ugly win over Arizona State 3-1 (5-14, 1-9) on Oct. 1 at Haas Pavilion. Cal surrendered eight service errors and had its inconsistent passing exposed by a tough serving Sun Devils squad.

Part of Cal’s rocky play can be explained in having to deal with the loss of sophomore Adrienne Gehan, who has sat out since injuring her ankle against Colorado on Sept. 16. At that point, the Bears were ranked No. 1 and had only dropped one set on the year.

“It was a learning experience, and we had to build around not having Adrienne,” junior Correy Johnson said. “That really has made our team stronger, and I’m really glad it happened then so that we could move on and be stronger for the second half.”

With Gehan set to see some playing time this weekend, Cal will get a second chance to work out some of the kinks in its passing game against an Arizona State squad that has the ninth ranked defense in the Pac-12.

The Bears will then follow up on Saturday at the McKale Center in Tucson, facing a team they had little trouble dispatching in a 3-0 win on Sept. 30.

But the Wildcats rank as the No. 5 serving team in the Pac-12 and could expose the Bears’ passing weaknesses.

“We’re playing like a team that’s still finding some ways to improve,” Feller said. “The good thing is that we’re half way through and we’ve got a great record, and we get to see all those same teams again.”

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