Cal looks to get back on track against Utah, Colorado

For the first time in 2011, the main focus of the Cal volleyball team’s practices this week hasn’t been on serving and passing.

Instead, coach Rich Feller has been more concerned with re-instilling a competitive fire in his squad.

“I told them to eat a lot of guts for meals,” Feller said.

No. 7 Cal (21-4, 11-4 in the Pac-12) will look to rebound from a rough weekend by heading out to Salt Lake City to take on Utah at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Crimson Court. The team will then travel up to Boulder to face Colorado on Saturday at 1 p.m at the Coors Event Center.

When the Bears took on the Utes (9-15, 4-11) back on Sept. 17, Cal effortlessly dispatched Utah 3-0 behind 17 kills from senior Tarah Murrey. The Bears’ offense had no trouble staying in system and in control, outhitting Utah’s .290 to .104.

But Cal is still reeling from two ugly losses to the LA schools this past weekend and isn’t planning on taking the Utes for granted.

“We’re playing two teams in a strange location that we’ve never been to before, and one of the teams has just upset Oregon,” Feller said. “It’s not a gimmie just because it’s the second time around.”

Behind 18 team blocks — one off its season high — Utah went into Eugene, Ore., and upset the No. 16 Ducks this past Friday. As the third best blocking team in the Pac-12, the Utes could provide another staunch test for a Cal offense that is coming off two of its worst showings of the year.

But Feller isn’t worried about his team’s physical ability to compete with the Utes; he’s more concerned about where his team is at mentally. After two ugly sets against USC on Saturday, he called out his players, asking them to prove to him that they could turn up the mental intensity — which has been the focus all week in practice.

“If we’re not going to be better at serving and passing, then we’ve got to be better at something else,” Feller said “And if that needs to be competing, then that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Feller will likely be looking for setter Elly Barrett to step up. The junior had an abysmal showing last weekend in leading her team to a .147 hitting average against USC and .154 against UCLA. Sporadic sets mixed with lackluster defense led Feller to pull Barret from the match in favor of freshman Lindsey Parrott against the Bruins.

“It’s got to be more,” he said. “It’s got to be an all out competition for who’s going to show that they deserve to be out there.”

After the Bears take on Utah, they will take a day off before facing off with Colorado, a team that ranks either last or second to last in every major statistical category and has only won a grand total of three sets in conference play.

But for Cal, it’s yet another opportunity to bring that extra competiveness that was absent in the team’s last two matches.

“Everyone on the bench and everyone on the court needs to be able to execute all the time, whether they are in or out,” middle hitter Shannon Hawari said.

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