Cal entered the final game of its weekend tournament expecting to finish with a perfect record. Although Northern Arizona (8-1), fought hard on Saturday night in Haas Pavillion, the Bears won 3-1 (25-11, 25-21, 23-25, 25-17) and emerged as champions of the Cal Molten Classic.
In the the four-team tournament, Cal had no problem with Penn and UC Riverside. Although the Bears (5-3) were able to fight off the Lumberjacks and finish 3-0, the tournament served more as a learning experience for Cal.
Northern Arizona’s front three were smaller than the Bear’s front court, but when the match began, the Lumberjacks made up for the size mismatch with preparation. Northern Arizona hung with the Bears up until the 23-23 mark.
Much to the Lumberjack’s chagrin, a referee’s controversial call on an out-of-bounds kill gave the 24th point to the Bears. Although Cal survived, 25-23, the Lumberjacks looked more impressive than the slow-starting Bears in the first set.
“We are still a little tentative as a team,” senior Shannon Hawari said. “Teams should be worried about us instead of us being worried about what they are going to do.”
In the second set, Cal took control of the game with the help of Hawari and junior Adrienne Gehan. Gehan energized the team with blazing kills that Lumberjack defenders could not handle. Defensively, Hawari’s 10 blocks brought the crowd to its feet on multiple occasions.
Although Cal asserted its dominance in the second frame — and won by a quick 25-15 margin — fatigue started to set in during the third set. Long rallies created by diving Lumberjacks prolonged the third set until Cal caved, losing 25-23.
“The Northern Arizona team gave us a good fight, they were very scrappy,” Hawari said.
While the Lumberjacks’ defense was gritty, the Bears’ was disorganized. Athletes were trying to find their spot on the floor while Northern Arizona hitters were about to strike.
“What tends to happen is that you get caught up in the action and end up running around like a chicken with its head cut off,” coach Rich Feller said. “We were getting a little bit scrambly.”
Lapses of concentration had marred the third frame for the Bears who huddled in between sets to talk it over.
“We told them that if we reduce our unforced errors by 50 percent then we are going to be fine,” Feller said. “Once (the team) heard that they thought, ‘Oh, we lost, but it was on us.”
Cal responded resoundingly, jumping out to a 20-12 lead in the fourth set. From there they were able to deliver the knockout blow, winning the set 25-19.
Hawari was awarded with tournament MVP honors dand setter Joan Caloiaro made the All-Tournament team. While individuals like Hawari and Caloiaro were able to shine, Feller used the tournament as a building block.
“Its about finding our own identity,” Feller said. “We are still trying to figure out our rhythm. One of the bonuses of playing a (tournament) was that we had to work more and make changes.”
Austin Crochetiere covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected].