When the Cal volleyball team took on Washington on Oct. 14, the teams were considered to be two of the top four squads in the nation.
Now, less than a month later, the teams aren’t even considered to be the top units in the Pac-12.
The No. 5 Bears will head up north this weekend to face off with the two Washington schools. Cal will open on Friday night at 7 p.m. by squaring off with Washington State (12-14, 4-12 in the Pac-12) at Bohler Gym in Pullman, Wash.
Despite a sloppy performance, the Bears cruised to a 3-0 victory over the Cougars on Oct. 15 and should have little trouble doing it again.
Cal will then follow up at 7 p.m. on Saturday with a match against No. 11 Washington (18-6, 10-6) at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.
“End of the season wins weigh a little more heavily in the committee’s eyes,” coach Rich Feller said. “Being able to able to beat teams that we beat at home is a big deal.”
Since No. 4 Cal took out then No. 2 Washington in October, the Bears (23-4, 13-4) have been swept by the L.A. schools for the second time, and the Huskies haven’t beaten a ranked team since taking out Oregon in September, losing all five games against top-25 squads since.
Now, both teams are desperate for one more signature win to help bolster their NCAA tournament resume and earn a favorable seed. With just three weeks left in the season, they’re running out of chances to do so.
And for Cal, an opportunity to face a reeling Huskies squad on a court where its won three straight meetings is golden one.
“They’re a big crowd and they yell things at me and the players, but it just helps the team refocus on what’s going on out on the court,” Feller said.
Despite its struggles, Washington is still the top blocking team in the conference, led by a Pac-12 best 1.57 blocks per set from senior Bianca Rowland.
But last season, Cal was the rightful owner of that title, averaging 3.04 blocks per set. In 2011, that number has deflated to 2.77, only the fourth highest mark in the Pac-12.
The players are reluctant to admit it, but Feller claims that the lack of a dominating block is a cause for some concern, focusing on improving this area all week in practice.
Some of this absence can likely be explained by the graduation of setter Carli Lloyd.
The 2010 National Player of the Year was the unequivocal leader and anchor of the team, acting as an irreplaceable force on the court.
“Carli was one of the most effective blockers on the right side in the conference last year, and certainly as a setter she was one of the best blockers in the country, if not the best blocker,” Feller said. “(Setter) Elly (Barrett) is a good blocker, but you have to play a little different kind of defense behind her.”
In order for the Bears to have success, they will look to improve their blocking to neutralize a balanced Washington offense.