Higgins shines as Bears survive desert storm

Eugene W. Lau/Staff

When Adrienne Gehan went down with an ankle injury on Sept. 16 against Colorado, outside hitter Christina Higgins knew she had to be the one to fill the void.

“I felt like it was my chance to step up,” Higgins said

This weekend, the freshman proved that she is more than capable.

Higgins helped the No. 4 Cal volleyball team sweep its weekend series, beating Arizona 3-0 (25-21, 25-19, 25-21) on Friday night at Haas Pavillion, and following it up with a 3-1 win (25-19, 25-23, 18-25, 25-15) over Arizona State Saturday night.

Both nights, Higgins made her mark on the stat sheet, opening with an 11-kill performance hitting an impressive .450. She then topped that outing, tying Tarah Murrey for the most kills on the Cal squad at 16. Until Murrey overtook her in the final points of the match, Higgins had been leading Cal in kills and — more strikingly — in attempts.

“She’s been huge for us,” coach Rich Feller said. “She’s absolutely fearless.”

Cal (15-2, 5-2 in the Pac-12) opened its weekend with a slow first set against Arizona (10-5, 2-4), exhibiting much of the sloppy passing that has plagued it throughout the season. Facing a 19-17 deficit, the squad responded with a Shannon Hawari kill and an Elly Barrett dump over, prompting the Wildcats to call a timeout.

The Bears wouldn’t let up, and five Tarah Murrey kills would help seal the set win for Cal.

The squad would maintain that high level of play throughout the remainder of the match, outhitting the Wildcats .355 to .231. Less than a week after Cal’s offense could not have been more predictable, the Bears always looked one step ahead of the Wildcats.

“We can learn from our mistakes pretty quickly,” Higgins said. “We don’t let negative things settle into our brains.”

Higgins continued to act as a huge asset to the Bears on Saturday night, forcing multiple Arizona State (4-11, 0-6) timeouts with kills, and even an emphatic block in the fourth set, causing the home crowd to erupt.

Her team, however, seemed to regress, again falling victim to subpar passing and erratic sets in dropping the third set. As a result, Cal’s offense began to shut down, followed by a disappearance of its defense and blocking.

“They were the toughest serving team we’ve faced, and that really exposed a lot of our passing weaknesses,” Feller said.

Most of those tough serves came by way of libero Stephanie Preach, who notched two aces in the first three sets. In set four, however, Cal switched up its defensive rotations to neutralize her, preventing any additional aces and forcing two service errors.

But despite notching the two wins, the Bears still failed to prove they had overcome many of the weaknesses exposed by two ugly losses in Los Angeles the previous weekend.

“If some aspect of your game are not good, you can’t let it affect the others,” Feller said.  “We didn’t do a good job of that.”