Bears return to health in time to host L.A. rivals

Senior Tarah Murrey looked exhausted after Wednesday’s practice and film review.

But you never would have known based on her rhetoric about the Cal volleyball team facing No. 6 UCLA and No. 4 USC this weekend.

“I definitely want to play as hard as we can every match,” Murrey said. “But I’m not going to lie — I wanna kick their butt, of course. They’re our two losses and we want to step up and show that we are a really good team and we can and will win.”

Murrey and company will get their shot at revenge starting on Friday at 7 p.m. against the Bruins (18-3, 11-2 in the Pac-12) and culminating in a Saturday draw at 7 p.m. against the Trojans (17-3, 12-1), at Haas Pavilion.

Usually, the No. 2 Bears (21-2, 11-2) toss around phrases like “doing what we do well” to get the win. This week, they kicked up their language a notch, discussing “executing” their game plan.

“It’s who’s able to execute for longer periods of time,” Murrey said. “Good times good times good equals great. We don’t have to be great for one play … Keep the ball in, keep being consistent and they will get so frustrated.”

Cal was the flustered team when it last faced its SoCal rivals. Both squads obliterated the then-No. 1 and previously unbeaten Bears. Cal lost all but one set against UCLA in an astonishingly poor showing.

“We didn’t really play as a team really well,” coach Rich Feller said. “There were a lot of times in the three contacts, one or two of them were not executed well and that disturbed any kind of momentum or any kind of rhythm we could get in the match.”

Feller also noted that weekend was the first without outside hitter Adrienne Gehan, who sustained an ankle injury. Gehan made her return to the court last weekend in the back row, but has been cleared to attack and assuredly will see some time this weekend.

Also rejoining the mix is All-American Correy Johnson, who went down last weekend with a sprained ankle. Feller said on Thursday Johnson’s participation would also be a game time decision. Both libero Robin Rostratter and defensive specialist Marlee Davis have been cleared to play after suffering head injuries.

Putting out a largely healthy squad couldn’t come at a better time for the Bears given the magnitude of these matches, which will inevitably affect NCAA seeding and weigh heavily in the race for the Pac-12 crown.

The teams will pose very different challenges for Cal this weekend. UCLA boasts one of the fastest offenses in conference and is known for its ball-control, according to Feller. USC, meanwhile, runs a slow, high-ball offense and puts up a massive block.

Both have been tremendously successful in their respective styles of play. The Trojans haven’t dropped a match since their first conference game. The Bruins’ lone loss since facing Cal came in a five-set upset at Arizona.

That kind of success puts even more pressure on Cal’s side.

“If you’re not executing the little things, you’re in a lot of trouble because those teams do execute pretty well in what they do well,” Feller said. “For us to compete at that level with those kinds of teams, execution rises up.”

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