The Cal volleyball team has struggled somewhat this season with energy lapses in matches, and Saturday’s contest at Washington was no exception. With the No. 5 Bears leading the match two sets to none, the No. 11 Huskies negated Cal’s 14-7 third-set lead with an 11-1 run to force a fourth frame.
But for most of the match, there weren’t big runs or breaks in concentration. The two powers traded blows with the Bears striking at just the right time to earn a gutsy 3-1 (25-21, 25-23, 22-25, 25-23) victory at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle, Wash.
Cal (25-4, 15-4 in the Pac-12) was trailing 23-21 in the fourth set after Washington put up its 11th block of the night. As the Huskies (19-7, 11-7) threatened to extend the match into the fifth set, middle hitter Kat Brown celebrated her birthday a day late with two quick kills to tie things up at 23.
Brown combined with outside hitter Tarah Murrey for a block to give the Bears match point. Washington’s Kylin Munoz sailed a ball long to seal Cal’s win.
“We’re playing with pretty good rhythm,” coach Rich Feller said. “This was a time when our team got pushed and we got to push back.”
There are a lot of areas on the stats sheet to explain the Bears’ victory: 14 team blocks, four hitters in double-digits for kills, four surpassing the 10-dig mark and a respectable .215 team attack rate against the Pac-12’s best blocking battalion.
Some strong individual performances gave rise to those numbers. Shannon Hawari led the match with a stellar .556 hitting percentage on 12 kills and Murrey put down a game-high 17 kills. Brown commanded the net with a ferocious nine blocks, while libero Robin Rostratter anchored the back row with 23 digs.
But the real reason behind the Bears’ commanding win didn’t show up in the quantitative measures. It was the chatter on the court that made the difference.
“Something we had really been working on this past week was our communication between our front and back row,” middle hitter Kat Brown said. “We just all-around did a good job of that.”
Cal needed to keep its talking up in a very hostile arena packed with 3,788 fans. The Bears largely didn’t get rattled and executed.
The Huskies, on the other hand, were clearly the frustrated team. Washington’s arsenal of attackers was forced into an error-riddled game, holding the Huskies’ hitting percentage to a paltry .135. Coach Jim McLaughlin switched liberos in the fourth set and brought hitter Kelcey Dunaway in to log more time in the middle, hoping a different combination would work against a staunch Cal defense. The Bears were undeterred.
“It starts with our serving to get them out of system,” Rostratter said. “We had tough serving, and that allows our block to line up more specifically in areas to take away their harder shots that they want to swing.”