STANFORD, Calif. — In Friday night’s 74th Big Spike, there were 41 ties and 17 lead changes over three sets.
But there weren’t any in the fourth frame.
Leading two sets to one, the No. 10 Cal volleyball team trampled No. 6 Stanford at Maples Pavilion to finish the regular season with a much-needed victory (24-26, 29-27, 25-23, 25-14).
The Bears (26-6, 16-6 in the Pac-12) have struggled to close matches of late, dropping their previous two contests in five frames, but Cal came out on fire to start the fourth set against the Cardinal (21-7, 15-7).
As had been typical throughout the match, the stanza began with a lengthy opening rally with the Bears’ defense resurrecting balls that seemed doomed. Stanford made three consecutive errors, two by outside hitter Lydia Bai misfiring in an attempt to avoid the Bears’ block.
“Our mentality all week was just relentless defense, go all out,” libero Robin Rostratter said. “Our team goal was to leave everything out there and play free. We accomplished that.”
Just three points into the set, Stanford coach John Dunning called a timeout. The Cardinal mustered up a point out of the break, then went scoreless on the next four points, as outside hitter Tarah Murrey burned Stanford with three scorching kills.
With the score at 7-1, Dunning burned his final timeout of the set.
The Bears were undeterred. For the first time in recent memory, Cal was playing with unmistakable confidence, led by Murrey’s incredible power and speed on the outside.
Cal’s lone senior tallied seven of her match-high 23 kills in the fourth frame alone, as the Bears continued to build a substantial lead. Middle hitter Kat Brown emphatically blocked the Cardinal’s top attacker, middle Carly Wopat, for Wopat’s lone error of the night to push Cal’s lead to 20-11. The Bears finished off the Big Spike season sweep with a tip over the block by right side hitter Correy Johnson.
“Elly (Barrett) ran an awesome offense,” Murrey said of her setter, who tallied 60 assists. “She was really getting us some great openings in the block, and the block was just slower because she was mixing it up so well.”
As anticipated, Cardinal setter Karissa Cook relied heavily on her two sophomore heavy-hitters, Wopat and outside Rachel Williams. They were the only Stanford hitters to reach double-digit kills, notching 19 and 22, respectively.
While Cal couldn’t contain the Cardinal’s top weapons, the Bears largely succeeded in keeping Stanford out of system with aggressive serves to minimize Cook’s options. Once the Cardinal hitters got the ball, the block was solid and the back row defense was as scrappy as it has been all season.
“Our chaotic play was not as chaotic,” coach Rich Feller said. “When we had a chance to put a ball up by whatever means, it was high and off the net. We didn’t do that as well in the first set, but in the next three sets, we did a really good job controlling the chaos.”
The Bears travel to Malibu, Calif., to face North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.