Cal can’t defend home court in weekend sweep

With the Cal volleyball team down two sets to none, outside hitter Tarah Murrey exorcised some frustration by pulverizing a ball into the hardwood for a kill — pushing the Bears’ lead in the third set to 18-11 over USC.

The Bears appeared to be in complete control of the frame, desperately searching for some sort of consolation from an otherwise lost weekend.

And yet, 18 points later, the team would find itself on the wrong side of a 25-22 final tally, resulting in the second ugly loss in as many days for the Bears.

No. 2 Cal (21-4, 11-4 in the Pac-12) suffered its first two losses at Haas Pavilion this weekend, first dropping a 3-1 match to No. 6 UCLA (25-17, 20-25, 25-17, 25-16) on Friday. The Bears followed it up with 3-0 (25-15, 25-17, 25-22) drubbing at the hands of No. 4 USC Saturday night.

All four of the Bears’ losses in 2011 have been to the Bruins and the Trojans, resulting in the squad sitting in third place in the conference, two games out of first.

“We know we’re a lot better than that,” middle blocker Kat Brown said.

Coming into the weekend as the top defensive team in the Pac-12, Cal struggled mightily to handle two potent offenses. The Bears’ blocking was virtually non-existent — illustrated by just five team blocks against USC compared to the Trojans’ nine. USC (18-4, 13-2) had absolutely no problem finding the gaps in the Bears’ defense, managing to hit .319 as a team.

“Usually we rely heavily on our blocking, and that just wasn’t there for whatever reason,” middle hitter Shannon Hawari said. “It made it really hard on our defenders behind the block.”

Hawari proved to be the lone bright spot for the Bears, as the redshirt junior managed to hit .435 with a team-high 14 kills against the Trojans, keeping things somewhat competitive.

After surrendering two quick sets, it looked like Feller’s squad was going to get back on track.

“I threw down a little bit of a challenge at halftime, and I let them know that I was having some questions about who to start and what rotation to be in,” Feller said. “I really wanted to feel from them that they really wanted to make this happen. I needed to see it in their eyes.”

Feller initially got the response he wanted, as Cal came out firing on all cylinders.

However, after the Bears to jumped out to a 17-9 lead on a Hawari kill, a series of mental lapses and miscommunications let USC right back into the set. Senior Alex Jupiter’s 15th kill of the night finally put the Bears out of their misery.

“As a team, we need to be more mentally disciplined,” Hawari said. “We were really struggling to get into a rhythm.”

The Bears didn’t fare much better on Friday night against UCLA (20-3, 13-2). Though Cal managed to steal a set, the squad was unable to keep the Bruins out of system, and a balanced attacked rendered the Bears’ blockers completely helpless.

“There were sparks of good things this weekend, but we have a lot of mental work to do as a team,” Hawari said.