When No. 6 Hawaii libero Ali Longo served the ball on Cal’s match point in the fifth set, it seemed the next point belonged to the Rainbow Wahine.
But freshman libero Mary McKennon hooked it into the middle of court where freshman Nikki Gombaro just barely bumped it over the net, leaving Hawaii unprepared to defend and ending the match in a 3-2 victory for No. 25 Cal.
“I can’t believe that’s how it ended,” Adrienne Gehan said. “I honestly didn’t think it was going over, but it just barely made it over the net and went right into the corner.”
Given the way the Bears’ weekend at the Wahine Volleyball Classic in Honolulu, HI, started, it’s not surprising there was some disbelief surrounding that victory.
The Bears came into their second straight weekend on the road after a loss to unranked San Diego State, struggling to piece together a youthful lineup with a number of veteran players still injured.
The combination of all those factors, coach Rich Feller said, is why the Bears fell in their first two matches to unranked Baylor and University of San Francisco before their victory against Hawaii.
Baylor swept the Bears in straight sets, all decided by a margin of two points. However, the loss to start out the weekend competition left the Bears’ confidence shaken.
The Bears continued to fight through the shakeup to force five sets against San Francisco — but still fell in the end.
Gehan and sophomore Christina Higgins were less effective offensively against the Dons, a problem for the hitters who provided so many kills in other matches. While Higgins contributed 14 kills against the Dons, she also led the team with eight errors, while Gehan only made eight kills herself and six errors.
“I wasn’t getting my feet to the ball, I wasn’t swinging high and aggressively,” Gehan said. “I kind of lost my confidence from the start with Baylor. It took me a little too long to gain it back.”
Fortunately for Cal, however, Gehan and the entire team indeed gained it back by the time they faced Hawaii. Gehan and Higgins led the squad with 13 kills each, and the Bears’ defense overcame the communication struggles that hurt them in previous matches.
The Bears started the match slowly, like they had started their weekend. After the Bears took the first set, the Rainbow Wahine pummeled them with a nine-point victory in the second set. Hawaii then took a five point victory in the third, making the situation even more do or die for Cal. Evidently the Bears responded well to that.
The Bears, according to Feller, played with nothing to lose, which allowed the younger lineup to step up, reduce their errors significantly and play like a ranked team should.
“I really don’t think our opponents, especially the ones that we lost to, did anything to us. I think it was 100 percent on our side; I think we just lost confidence for a few matches,” Gehan said.
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