Barrett, Johnson shine in opening weekend

Junior Correy Johnson hit .500 in the Bears’ victory over FIU.
Kellen Freeman /File
Junior Correy Johnson hit .500 in the Bears’ victory over FIU.

For two years, Elly Barrett watched from the sidelines as setter Carli Lloyd ran the Cal volleyball team’s offense.

On Friday night in the Bears’ season opener against UC Riverside, Lloyd was perched in the Haas Pavilion stands, watching her successor lead No. 3 Cal to a convincing sweep of the Highlanders.

Had the reigning national Player of the Year stuck around for the team’s two Cal Molten Classic matches on Saturday against winless Fairfield and Florida International University (FIU), she would have seen much of the same from Barrett.

En route to an All-Tournament team selection, Barrett guided her attackers to a .385 hitting percentage in a 3-0 pummeling of Fairfield (25-12, 25-15, 25-14). Against a more formidable FIU squad, Barrett paced the Bears (3-0) to a .284 rate and a 25-23, 25-16, 25-15 victory.

“I think that was as smooth a first time out setter as you can possibly imagine,” coach Rich Feller said. “It shows that she’s been in the program for two years and obviously setting a lot of balls in our system, but her to just step on the court and not show any nerves and just glide right into everything.”

Barrett didn’t just earn high praise from Feller, but from her attackers as well.

Junior Correy Johnson, who split duties on the right side and middle, erupted for a match-high 12 kills against FIU at an even .500 hitting percentage. The Panthers (2-1) had no answer for the lanky 6-foot-4 attacker, who showed off her powerful arm and crafty shot selection, especially on her signature slide play to the right side.

“I felt like me and Elly had a pretty good connection,” said Johnson, the tournament MVP. “She just went to me and I felt like she kept it really fast, which makes it easier for me to terminate balls.

“I love her sets.”

Middle hitter Shannon Hawari also seemed to appreciate Barrett’s touch, accumulating 19 kills over the three contests, including a match-high .533 hitting percentage against FIU.

Seemingly the only hitter that really struggled this weekend was All-American Tarah Murrey, slated to be the squad’s premier attacker for the second straight year. After strong showings in the first two tilts, Murrey’s production plunged to a scanty .036 rate.

When the star outside hitter lagged, the other hitters more than compensated for her diminished output.

Adrienne Gehan, the No. 2 outside hitter behind Murrey, certainly made her presence felt. The sophomore looked much more confident at the net than in her freshman campaign. She registered 10 kills against Riverside and 10 more versus the Panthers.

Cal’s elevated numbers indicate the Bears’ breezed through their first three contests, which is largely true. However, Cal saved the toughest of the three teams for last, and FIU did not disappoint.

The Panthers challenged the Bears in the first set, leading early, 8-5, before Cal regained control. After tying the opening frame at nine, the Bears only trailed once more in the match — the first point of the second set.

“This was the first team that really pushed us at our own game, strength at the net and some defense,” Feller said. “Maybe it made us get a little bit tense for a little while, but I think we got out of that pretty fast.”