For the first time in 2011, the Cal volleyball team didn’t put its main focus on passing this week in practice.
And, consequently, for the first time this season, coach Rich Feller was thoroughly satisfied with his squad’s performance in that particular area.
“I’m pretty pleased,” Feller said. “The biggest difference for us was that we passed well throughout the weekend.”
A week after getting swept by the L.A. schools, No. 7 Cal completed a weekend sweep of its own, taking out Colorado 3-1 (25-23, 20-25, 24-15, 25-20) on Saturday afternoon at the Coors Event Center in Boulder, Colo., two days after beating Utah.
After being pulled from the match against UCLA last Friday, setter Elly Barrett turned in one of her strongest performances of the season on Saturday. As the much improved passing allowed Cal to stay in system for the majority of the match, Barrett was in full control of the offense, racking up 47 assists.
The setter continually kept the Bears’ attack one step of ahead of the Buffaloes’ defense, generating a plethora of one-on-one situations on the outside for her hitters.
“Elly had a much better setting match,” Feller said. “She was pretty smart in choosing where she wanted to set.”
Junior Correy Johnson proved a major benefactor of Barrett’s play. The Winter Park, Fla., native dominated the right side for 15 kills and no errors to lead the match with a .625 hitting percentage.
“I really focused on eliminating errors and being good about my hitting selection, but I still tried to be aggressive,” Johnson said. “Even if a ball didn’t go the way I wanted it to, I just made sure that I stayed aggressive on the next one.”
The Bears did see their passing game break down a little bit in the second set. Down early, Cal managed to pull within two points on an ace from middle blocker Kat Brown that made it 18-16.
But the Bears couldn’t disrupt the Colorado offense, and a Kerra Schroeder ace finally knotted the match up at one set a piece.
“When we faltered, it was just little individual let downs, but as a team we played well,” Feller said.
After the break, Cal would come back out and re-establish its passing game, and the squad would stay in complete control for the rest of the match. The Bears jumped all over Colorado in the third set, and a Johnson kill would give the team an early 6-2 lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish.
Sophomore Adrienne Gehan, seeing her first action at the net since injuring her ankle against the Buffaloes on Sept. 16, made her presence felt in the third set, tooling a kill off a block to make it 18-9.
Despite a convincing performance on offense, Cal’s top-ranked defense in the conference still couldn’t dominate a Colorado team that ranks last in the Pac-12 in hitting percentage. Historically the strength of the team, the Bears’ front line only managed six blocks to Colorado’s eight.
“Our defense still needs to pick up,” Feller said. “Our blocking got better as the match went on, but it’s still not where it needs to be.”
But with the passing squared away for now at least, it appears that the Bears have found their new area of focus in moving forward.