Bears maul Wildcats in straight-set win

It’s rare that Cal volleyball coach Rich Feller gets fired up on the sidelines.

As an Arizona pass off a Christina Higgins slam fell out of bounds near his feet, the calm and collected coach let out a roar with an emphatic fist pump.

Higgins’ violent swing knotted up the first set against Arizona at 17-all, erasing the Bears’ 16-12 deficit that existed just minutes prior.

No. 4 Cal (14-2, 4-2 in the Pac-12) quickly found itself in the hole again. A crafty dump by setter Elly Barrett on a pass tight to the net tied the score at 19-19, earning the junior a big high five from the beaming Feller as the Wildcats halted play with a timeout.

At the conclusion of the Bears’ 25-21, 25-19, 25-21 victory on Friday night at Haas Pavilion, there was little that could wipe the grin off Feller’s face.

Coming out of the timeout, senior outside hitter Tarah Murrey seized four of Cal’s five subsequent points to commandingly claim the set.

After that hotly contested opening stanza, Arizona (10-4, 2-3) never led the match. Coming off a weak offensive showing in Los Angeles last weekend, Barrett paced the Bears with a career-high 43 assists and ran a balanced attack that posted a strong .355 overall hitting percentage.

Murrey posted the lowest hitting percentage of Cal’s attackers, but hit a respectable .242 with 13 kills and a team-high 12 digs. Middle hitter Shannon Hawari equaled her roommate’s kill total, but topped Murrey’s attack rate by hitting a match-high .500.

The Wildcats looked outmatched for much of the second and third sets, but came on particularly strong toward the end of the match. The Bears raced out to a 20-13 lead in the third set, but struggled to close out the game.

With the score at 23-17, Arizona strung together three straight points, including one earned on a kill by Cursty Jackson that hit defensive specialist Marlee Davis square in the face and knocked the freshman over. Davis was called for a lift in the next point to bring the score to 23-21, prompting Feller to burn a timeout.

Despite the Wildcats’ surge, Feller was soon smiling again: Murrey and middle hitter Kat Brown each laid down a kill to secure the win.