As far as conference competition goes, the Cal volleyball team faces its toughest weekend of the season. If the Bears win both their upcoming battles, the results would do wonders for a team that has fallen out of the rankings.
At Haas Pavilion, the Bears take on No. 6 USC (16-3, 4-3 in the Pac-12) at 8 p.m. on Friday and the No. 7 defending national champions UCLA (12-3, 4-2) at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Despite playing two top-10 teams, middle hitter senior Kat Brown said that the team feels little pressure because of the rankings.
“We do not really worry about rankings that much,” Brown said. “The main thing playing a ranked team does for us is that we feel like we have nothing to lose.”
Although USC is only 4-3 in Pac-12 competition, the Trojans’ three losses have come from top-10 teams in one of the best conferences in the nation. USC’s most recent loss came to No. 4 Stanford on Wednesday in arguably its worst game of the season. In that tilt, the Trojans turned in a season-low .089 hitting percentage.
Though USC has lost three conference games, the squad’s talent exceeds its record on paper.
The Trojans have destroyed their opponents in aces to the tune of 74-44.
What makes USC such a hard to team defend is that it has outside hitters that rack up major kills. The Trojans’ 6-foot-2 outside hitter Sara Shaw hits the ball from a high point with big fan and can hit from practically anywhere on the opposite end of the court.
Shaw’s partner, the 6-foot-2 freshman phenomenon Samantha Bricio, leads the squad with a whopping 252 kills this season and is second in digs, with 147.
Paced by the deadly duo of Shaw and Bricio, the Trojans average an impressive 14.6 kills per set, compared to their opponents’ 12 kills per set.
In Cal coach Rich Feller’s mind, the Trojans have all the tools to challenge the Bears, who had just 10 players practice on Wednesday.
“They’re going to bring a high powered offense and they’re a great defensive team,” Feller said. “It’s hard to defend them at the back row, so we’re going to try to stop them at the net by putting two blockers up.”
The Bears have a chance to tame USC’s fire if they play with an appropriate level of confidence in their blocks. Middle hitter senior Shannon Hawari, averaging 1.41 blocks per set, must pave the way for the Bears.
The Bears also have a talented freshman in outside hitter Nikki Gombar, who aced six times in last Friday’s win over Oregon State.
Because the tilt with USC is the first game of the weekend, Cal’s practices and film sessions have focused primarily on the Trojans.
“We have not been looking too much at UCLA,” Brown said. “We’ve been focusing on USC.”
Andrew Davis covers volleyball. [email protected]
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