Murrey dazzles despite loss on Senior Night
It’s hard to find a silver lining that shone throughout Cal’s implosion in the final three sets to fall to Oregon on Saturday. But Tarah Murrey was that star.
That’s not a statement that could be made after most games this year. The senior has largely not been the sheer dominant force that she was last year, blasting balls at helpless liberos and tearing through opposing blocks. This season, Murrey has had some impressive displays of brute strength and glimpses of finesse, but it has not been in every game on nearly every play like last year.
On Saturday night, the senior came out to play. Murrey put away 22 balls, and while her .250 hitting percentage didn’t jump off the stats page, she was clearly the most dominant force on the court.
“Tarah played an exceptional match tonight,” coach Rich Feller said after Saturday’s loss. “That’s a bright spot for us this late in the season for her to play that hard that long, and be as efficient as she was.”
It was Senior Night, and the El Cerrito, Calif., native had an incredibly large contingent, including her extended relatives and former club coaches, there cheering her on. But Murrey said she didn’t bring anything special out for the occasion.
“This is just Tarah Murrey,” she said. “I wanna play as hard as I can for my team. I just always want to give them everything I have. And it’s just frustrating, it’s really frustrating.”
Murrey’s frustration stems from the fact that the team couldn’t sustain the same high level of play throughout the match. The Bears waned after the first two sets, struggling to muster up the spark that fueled their surge. Murrey’s heroics weren’t enough, but she said she has a role in picking her teammates up when they’re struggling.
“All I can do is have the confidence on my face,” Murrey said. “Look at them and be like, ‘It’s okay. We will ourselves to this win, no matter what.’” I don’t know that we lost the faith that we can and that we will win, but it goes back to that lack of focus and executing for a long time.”
Schonewise makes the most of limited time
Feller’s squad is stacked at the middle position. Juniors Shannon Hawari and Kat Brown returned from last year’s squad as formidable attackers and stalwart blockers. Feller even dabbled early in the year with playing All-American right side hitter Correy Johnson in the middle, but that experiment ended when Cal’s other right side, freshman Christina Higgins, had to fill in for an injured Adrienne Gehan on the outside.
Through all of the changes at the net, Feller has also gone to freshman Lillian Schonewise off the bench on occasion. This weekend, she earned just her second start of the year.
On Friday against Oregon State, Feller switched things up by bringing Schonewise in the second set. The Papillion, Neb., native certainly made her presence felt, nailing down 13 kills on 18 swings for a match-high .667 hitting percentage. Perhaps more notably, the freshman logged only one attack error. She also chipped in three blocks and two digs.
Feller is particularly fond of the slide play, in which the hitter moves from in front of the setter to behind her to attack from the right side. Schonewise rivaled Johnson in execution, which means something since Johnson has made it her signature play.
Feller rewarded Schonewise’s effort with a start against Oregon on Saturday night in place of Hawari.
“Lillian was on fire, and we felt she deserved a chance to get in there,” Feller said. “She was pretty good for a while today. We were going for more offense, and for a while it seemed to be working right.”
The 6-foot-3 attacker wasn’t as successful against a much stronger block, tallying a still respectable six kills in four sets. However, she continued to be a presence at the net, rejecting seven balls.
Gehan, Higgins split duties on the outside
Feller also toyed with the No. 2 outside hitter position. Gehan struggled to get past the block against Oregon State, and overall looked uncomfortable at the net. She made several mental mistakes, indicative of her time away from the net due to her ankle dislocation suffered in mid-September.
“She’s still not 100 percent,” Feller said of Gehan. “She still hasn’t gotten her jump back. We’re hoping we can get through another week or so and get her fully back in when the tournament time comes so we have the choice of her or Christina or both.”
Higgins got the start against the Ducks, notching 10 kills on 35 swings with four attack errors. Gehan, meanwhile, played primarily in the back row, contributing 10 digs.
“Christina has been hot and cold a little bit in her starts, and she was pretty hot to start out,” Feller said. “Adrienne wasn’t quite putting the ball away enough, so we thought we’d do that, try to get some better passing and more experience out there.”
The Bears were the top blocking contingent in the Pac-10 and among the best in the nation last season. This year, Cal has struggled to reject attacks with the same proficiency, currently ranking fourth in the conference with 2.77 blocks per set.
In the first set against Oregon on Saturday, the Bears looked like the squad of last year, putting up six stops in the opening stanza alone. Cal managed only eight total over five sets against Oregon State the night before.
“I didn’t think I did a great job (against the Beavers) blocking,” Johnson said. “I had the mentality that I was going to know the scouting report — obviously I knew it last night, but execute at a higher level and just be more disciplined in what I was blocking. It was a mentality change for me, and I feel like that was the same all around.”
The block couldn’t curtail the Duck attack in the later sets. The hitters adjusted, and the blockers did not. Outside hitters Katherine Fischer and Alaina Bergsma torched the Bears for 17 and 16 kills, respectively. They mastered tooling it off the Cal block.
Feller said he didn’t even feel the block was that good, despite the promising start.
“It seemed like they were always getting it through our block to me,” Feller said. “It felt like we were half a step behind when we didn’t put a ball away, so they were able to transition and score.”