Whenever she is struggling, Tarah Murrey’s father tells her, “It’s never failure. It’s only feedback.”
That’s the message the senior outside hitter relayed to the Cal volleyball team on Saturday night following the No. 3 Bears’ second five-set loss in as many days.
“If we put our heads down, if we act like we’re completely defeated, then we’re not going to get to where we want to go,” Murrey said. “We need to focus and execute for longer.”
After dropping Friday’s match to Oregon State, 3-2 (25-22, 23-25, 25-21, 14-25, 17-15), Cal couldn’t close out Oregon on Saturday after leading 2-0. The No. 15 Ducks stormed back to complete their Bay Area sweep with a win at Haas Pavilion (23-25, 19-25, 25-18, 26-24, 15-9).
Rather than dwell on their shortcomings, the Bears focused on the positives: The squad played some of its best volleyball of the year in the first two frames against Oregon. Cal (25-6, 15-6 in the Pac-12) established its block early, amassing six stops in the first set alone — only two fewer than the Bears managed in five sets the night before.
The two squads traded prolonged runs in the second set, but Cal distanced itself from the Ducks (20-8, 13-7) with four consecutive points to close the frame. Correy Johnson rifled a ball from the right side to cap off the 25-19 set win and ignite the squad and the 1,365 fans.
“We’ve been sort of struggling to figure out exactly what our identity is again after this long season, and I was so pleased with sets one and two,” Feller said. “We started fast, we stayed strong, and in set two we finished the game when we needed to finish the game.”
The Bears could not sustain that high level of energy. While long rallies largely went their way in the first two sets, Oregon largely captured them in the final three. The Ducks’ attackers adjusted to Cal’s block, running their notoriously fast attack to force the Bears to scramble on defense, which in turn slowed down Cal’s offense. Communication between passers broke down, and the hitters struggled to terminate balls.
“It’s hard to know what exactly happens,” Feller said. “Something not perfect happens and then somebody doubts whether they can make something better happen, and then somebody else tries too hard.”
The win was within reach in the fourth set when the Bears took their first lead at 23-22 with an ace from libero Robin Rostratter. The junior then served into the net to tie it at 24, but Murrey fooled the blockers with a soft roll shot to give the Bears match point.
Then Cal’s defense gave way. The Ducks grabbed the next three points as outside hitters Alaina Bergsma and Katherine Fischer used the Bears’ block to their advantage, pummeling balls off blockers’ hands and out to recapture momentum and tie the match at two sets apiece.
The Ducks had all the momentum in the deciding set, opening it up with two emphatic blocks on Murrey, who posted a match-high 22 kills on Senior Night. Oregon capitalized on a number of Cal hitting and passing errors, building a 13-5 lead from which the Bears couldn’t recover.