Cal Volleyball @ UCLA Open Thread

We're down to just 4 more games to the Cal Volleyball's regular season schedule. The Bears (14-12, 8-8) are down in LA this week to face No. 5 UCLA (20-5, 12-4) tonight and No. 8 USC (24-4, 12-4). An upset win in either night would clinch a postseason spot for the Bears, who are playing their best volleyball of the season. GO BEARS!

Result:

Bears hit a rather great 0.299 for the match, but that's nowhere near enough against UCLA's insane 0.537 hitting percentage (only 7 hitting errors for the entire match). Hitting percentages is defined as (Kills - Errors)/Attempts. Final scores: 16-25, 22-25, and 18-25.

Next up:

The LA trip continues with USC tomorrow night at 7 PM PT, again with a free webstream (this is the same time as the Cal Womens Soccer' 2nd round match against San Diego State).

GO BEARS!

Time: 5 PM PT

Online Stream: Pac-12 Digital (FREE)

Audio: CalBears.com (FREE)

Score update: Cal Volleyball twitter (@CalVolleyball), Gametracker

With merely 4 games left in the regular season schedule, Cal Volleyball embark to Los Angeles this week for the the last regularly scheduled road trip of the season. This week's opponents are two nationally Top10 ranked teams in No. 5 UCLA and No.8 USC. Bears (14-12, 8-8) are one win away from clinching at least a .500 record, requisite to get in the NCAA tournament (for the 11th consecutive year). Looking ahead to next week, the Bears will host Utah (the most winnable match left, even if Utah's recent record of pushing top 10 teams to 5 sets before losing) and No.1 Stanfurd in the home edition of the Big Spike (also Senior Night). Yes, 3 of the 4 matches left for the Bears are Top 10 team; while the odds are against the Bears, these matchups are also great opportunities for the Bears to move up in the RPI and potentially not just clinch a NCAA tournament spot but also get a better opening round draw. By the way, Haas Pavilion is hosting a NCAA volleyball regional this year.

Tonight's UCLA match might be the more winnable of the two matches this week, if the pattern of the past two weeks hold. Two weeks ago, the Bears visited then No.2 Oregon for the first match of the week. With a date with No.1 Stanfurd looming, the Oregon Ducks overlooked the Bears and were defeated by the Bears in 5 sets. Last week, then No.5 Washington visited Berkeley and were down 2 sets to 1 to the Bears prior to rallying and winning an extremely close fifth set by the score of 17-15. Both of those teams went on to be swept in 3 by Stanfurd.

With the Pac-12 Networks ramping up their basketball coverage, both of the games this week are only available via the online stream.

Probable Starters
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown
12 Joan Caloiaro S 5-11 Jr. Saratoga, Calif.
23 Christina Higgins OH 6-2 So. Inglewood, Calif.
5 Adrienne Gehan OH 6-3 Jr. Dallas, Texas
8 Correy Johnson OPP 6-4 Sr. Winter Park, Fla.
7 Shannon Hawari MH 6-2 Sr. Plano, Texas
11 Kat Brown MH 6-3 Sr. Aptos, Calif.
13 Mary McKennon L 5-9 Fr. Newport Beach, Calif.

Last Week in Cal Volleyball:

Although she did not repeat as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, senior middle blocker Kat Brown led the Bears in throwing a home block party in both of the matches against the visiting Washington schools. Bears, 2nd in the conference in blocks behind Washington, got a career high 12 blocks from Kat Brown in the extremely important 4 set victory over Washington State. By the way, Kat Brown is now just 12 blocks away from matching Ellen Orchard's all time Cal block record of 504. Brown got plenty of help blocking with her roommate and good friend, fellow senior Correy Johnson who contributed a season high 9 blocks (quite a few of the blocks between Brown and Johnson were combo blocks meaning that both players get credit for a block on the same play).

Setter Joan Caloiaro (US Beach Volleyball legend Kerri Walsh's cousin) lead the Bears to a balanced attack against Wazzu by distributing her 54 sets fairly evenly among Shannon Hawari (14), Adrienne Gehan (12), Christina Higgins (12), Correy Johnson (10), and Kat Brown (9). In the earlier 5 set match against Washington, Caloiaro distributed 66 sets among Christina Higgins (18), Shannon Hawari (17), Correy Johnson (16), and Adrienne Gehan (13). Unlike past years where Cal rely heavily on a Hana Cutura or Tarah Murrey, a more balanced approach has been instrumental to Cal's recent success. In fact, the reason run of solid volleyball, starting with the upset win over Oregon (a 3-1 stretch which was nearly 4-0) coincided with the return of junior outside hitter Adrienne Gehan to the starting lineup from a knee injury.

An even bigger reason for the Bears' turnaround in a still sorely injury ridden season is the stability in the backrow. Without starting libero Robin Rostratter for the entire season, the Bears have got great work out of freshman libero Mary McKennon (15 and 13 digs against UW and Wazzu last week). Fellow freshman outside hitter Nikki Gombar has also picked up the slack as a defensive specialist type, contributing a team high 17 digs against Washington. The only other defensive specialist on the team is sophomore Marlee Davis (10 digs each in the two matches last week). Out of urgency, Shannon Hawari has demonstrated her ability to play the backrow (9 digs against UW). Back row play is also where Adrienne Gehan's return has the most impact as she is a much better all around player right now than either of her possible replacement in sophomore Christina Higgins and freshman Lara Vukasovic.

Despite the much more consistent back row passing and the solid blocking, there has been one glaring negative in the recent Bears' performance - serving. Cal has in recent year been a very conservative serving team (just get the ball in, don't really try for aces). This year, the team added a jump server in Caloiaro (who is pretty consistent) and the tough serving Nikki Gombar. Gombar currently lead the team in service aces with 23 but also the service errors with 55. Fortunately for the Bears, bad services have been quite contagious as both the Bears and the opponents have traded service errors. Nevertheless, life would be a lot easier if the Bears do not give away 3-4 points per set from bad serves.

Last time against UCLA:

Bears were swept by UCLA in mid-October as a part of the bad week at home in not winning a set from either LA school. Then, the Bears were missing Gehan while having both Hawari and Johnson suffering from flus. The UCLA attack was lead by seniors Tabi Love and Rachael Kidder, both hit better than .300.

UCLA runs quite an efficient attack, entering the week in the top 10 nationally in three categories: 4th in hitting percentage (.299) and kills per set (14.77) and 6th in assists per set (13.82).

UCLA may be in a bit of funk recently as they drop a match to Arizona (on the road) and sets (1 to ASU, 2 to Utah) in the last two weeks.

Bears in the RPI ranking:

Despite splitting last week's matches, the Bears pretty much stayed put in the RPI. Bears are currently in a pretty good position of being ranked 37th in the RPI. While the Bears will likely drop more matches, their strength of schedule should improve from playing UCLA (6th in the RPI) and USC (13th in RPI) this week as well as Stanfurd (1st in all metric) and a respectable Utah (80th).

Personally, I believe that the Bears will make the NCAA field with just a win against Utah next week. Nevertheless a win this week would guarantee a spot.

Unlike the Washington State game, which was a must win (and the Bears' play looked a bit tight at times). The Bears are basically playing with house money this week and are that much more dangerous.

GO BEARS!

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