When Tarah Murrey’s errant dig gave Stanford a 25-23 win in the opening frame of Tuesday’s Big Spike match, it was the first time the No. 1 Cal volleyball team had dropped a set in 2011.
The squad then made sure it would also be the last thus far.
The Bears defeated No. 2 Stanford, 3-1 (23-25, 25-16, 25-16, 25-21) at Haas Pavilion on Tuesday night to open Pac-12 play and back up their top ranking.
In the first set, Cal (11-0, 1-0 in the Pac-12) came out of the gate quickly to grab an early 7-4 lead. Stanford rallied, and took the lead briefly before an emphatic kill by Shannon Hawari, which ricocheted into the second level of the stands, knotted things up at 14. The set stayed close, with a three-point spread at most, until the Cardinal (6-1, 0-1) closed with two unanswered.
“That set was so close, take away a few of our mistakes and we figured we’re right back in it,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “It was just a matter of us settling down a little bit.”
Cal then would take complete control of the match, dominating the next three sets. Murrey led the way for the Bears, tallying 15 kills and 12 digs. The lone senior, however, only hit .157 for the match.
“I can be pretty hard on myself,” Murrey said. “I didn’t hit exactly the high percentage that I wanted, but I know that I’m going to improve, and I’m a confident player and I will get better.”
Murrey’s average looked fantastic to what the players on the other side of the net were posting. As a team, the Cardinal hit just .103. Outside hitter Rachel Williams did manage 15 kills, but hit for an abysmal .054 average — including 12 hitting errors.
The Bears found an answer for Stanford in set two, opening with a 6-1 run. Cal turned up the defense, grabbing a 21-13 lead while forcing Stanford’s hitting average to dip below .100. Murrey finished things off by slamming a crosscourt kill to knot things up at one set a piece.
“We never really compare ourselves to other teams, so I guess we just found out that we’re better than them tonight,” middle hitter Kat Brown said. “We know that we’re capable of beating a lot of teams, but we just try to focus on playing Cal volleyball.”
Cal kept the foot on the pedal in the third set, holding the Cardinal to an inconceivable hitting average of -.025, largely due to 10 errors. For the second straight frame, Murrey finished things off by tallying a kill.
The Bears put their final touches in the fourth and final set, coming back from a deficit to take their first lead with the score at 20-19. After Stanford pulled within 23-21, Adrienne Gehan and Murrey both powered kills through Cardinal blocks to secure the win for Cal.
“It’s an awesome feeling, but I told the team ‘we’re going to celebrate for no more than an hour,’” outside hitter Tarah Murrey said. “We were able to see our weaknesses and what we need to improve on.”
Though Murrey took the vast majority of the attack attempts for the Bears with 51, she led a very balanced Cal offense that managed to hit .264 against one of the top blocking teams in the nation. Gehan and Hawari both managed double digit kills, while Correy Johnson, who returned after sitting out Saturday night against Georgetown with a sore hip, tallied eight.
“We have a lot of people that can contribute,” Murrey said. “We have a lot of fire power.”
For Cal, this win finally legitimizes its status as the No. 1 team in the country, as the squad pick up its first victory over a ranked opponent.
“Cal is here, and we’re going to work and keep getting better,” Murrey said.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that after reaching a 14-14 tie in the first set, the score stayed within one or two points until Stanford captured the frame, 25-23. In fact, Cal trailed 17-14, which was a three-point spread.
The former version also incorrectly stated that Cal led for most of the fourth set. However, the Bears’ first lead came when the score stood 20-19.