It was a valiant run by the Bears, but a title simply wasn't meant to be. Penn State simply had too much talent and too many weapons. They had better defense and made very few unforced errors. Even so, Cal didn't lose this championship. The Nittany Lions won it. (3-0) Here's a quick recap with more detailed analysis to come later.
The Bears showed some big stage jitters early with some uncharacteristic hitting errors and some miscommunication. But, they hung tough and kept the first set close before falling 25-20. Murrey really carried them with some clutch hitting. Penn State's experience and poise were really evident. Give them credit for some tough digs and almost unreal hitting accuracy.
The 2nd Set was like the end of a Rocky movie. Brown(PSU) and Murrey matched each other kill for kill. Bouncing back from an uneven 1st set, Johnson came alive and added some nice kills for the Bears. Wilson & McClendon (PSU) countered. Penn State brought in 6'6 Slay to slow down Murrey and it worked. Murrey got blocked three times and then made a hitting error allowing PSU to sustain a 5-0 run and re-take a slim lead.
It'd be nice for freshmen to play like freshmen...but Penn State's frosh players were like iron. Damn.
Cal was almost exclusively going to Murrey. But, it seemed like all of Penn State's front-liners were deadly. It's amazing how effective Murrey was even with Penn State clearly keying on her. Contrast in styles...Multi-faceted attack from Penn State versus feeding the super-star for Cal.
And btw, Carli Lloyd is really damn good. She was everywhere. It seemed like she was at her best when the play breaks down and she had to make a split-second instinctive adjustment. Almost every scramble play resulted in Lloyd putting it away for the Bears.
After Penn State fought off two set points, Lloyd made a setting miscue and Penn State made the Bears pay. Brown closed out set point and gave Penn State a 2-0 lead. Gut check time.
The Bears played well in the 2nd set, but missed opportunities at the wrong time cost them. Murrey really struggled with Slay's height. Penn State was able to wear down the Bears with wave upon wave of talented reserves. Besides occasional glimpses from Johnson and Gehan, there wasn't a lot of offensive help for Murrey and Lloyd.
Backs against the wall, the Bears came out swinging and stuck with the girls that brung 'em: Lloyd to Murrey. Then Hawari chipped in a kill. And Johnson got a block. An ace.
Undaunted, Cal won an extended rally and forced a hitting error from Brown(PSU). Kat Brown came up with a big block.
All of sudden, it was no longer just Lloyd and Murrey with a little Johnson. The rest of the team showed up and Penn State knew they had a fight on their hands.
But despite the Bears' best efforts, Brown took control and almost singlehandedly re-captured both momentum and the lead. She had 8 kills in just this set. Sigh.
Brown's excellence and the enormity of the moment finally got to the Bears. You could see a hint of uncertainty set in which was reflected in their indecisive hitting and two PSU service aces. Murrey looked like she started to wear down. She had 56 attempts while the next two hitters only had 18 (Gehan) and 16 (Hawari) respectively.
After fighting off three set points, the Bears finally succumbed to Penn State's relentless assault.
Penn State deserved this title. They played better defense, made fewer errors, and had more players step up. While Cal had to rely almost exclusively on Lloyd(33 assists) and Murrey(16 kills), Penn State could rely on their three-headed monster of McClendon, Wilson, and Brown. When it really counted, Brown was simply unstoppable and brilliant. In the second set, Penn State made a key adjustment using Slay's height to counter Murrey. (.143 %) Although Gehan(7 kills), Johnson(4 kills) and Hawari(6 kills) gave it their best effort, they weren't able to keep up with Penn State's talented depth.
Hold your heads high, Bears. This was a great run and a fantastic season. We're all proud of you. Thank you for representing Cal with class and grace.
What were your favorite moments from this season? How will you remember Carli Lloyd?