The Golden Bears (15-14, 9-10) salvaged the season on Monday by coming back from a 2 sets to none deficit to defeat Utah, guaranteeing at least a 0.500 record to be NCAA eligible. There are, still some doubts, however about the Bears making the NCAA field. All that worry can be appeased if the Bears can be a giant slayer again and upset the No.2 Furd (26-3. 18-1) in the home leg of the Big Spike tonight. Additionally, it is Senior Night as the Bears honor their 4 special seniors in Shannon Hawari, Kat Brown, Correy Johnson, and Robin Rostratter. GO BEARS!
When: 8 PM PT
TV/Online: Pac-12 Networks (online for subscribers only)
Audio: CalBears.com (free)
Utah Match Recap:
Since I was traveling, I missed the excitement that was the Utah match. Given how tough Stanfurd has been this year, the Bears knew that the Utah match was a "must win" if the Bears hope to be considered for the NCAA tournament. However, fantastic blocking by Utah allowed the Utes to take the first two sets, 25-19 and 25-17 in rather dominant fashion. With their backs against the wall, Jonathan Okanes' blog on CalBears.com recounted:
Rostratter, Cal's starting libero who is out for the season with hip and back injuries, got inside the team huddle after the second set against Utah and lit into her teammates. She got into each's face, exhorting them not to let this trying season get to the brink. She was angry, passionate and inspiring.
The Bears responded by dominating the next 2 sets, winning 25-16 and 25-15. The catalyst for the comeback was freshman Outside Hitter, Lara Vukasovic, who got 12 kills in the last 3 sets. Vukasovic, a talented freshman from Croatia with international experiences, had started some games for the Bears when Adrienne Gehan was hurt. Vukasovic's talent is unquestioned although her consistency is still that of a freshman (somewhat inconsistent).
Set 5 saw a close victory for the Bears, 15-13. The win pretty much salvaged the season for the Bears by making the Bears NCAA eligible (more about the Bears' NCAA chances later). Senior Correy Johnson led the team in kills with 16 with 13 kills apiece from Gehan and senior Shannon Hawari. After being outblocked 13-1 in the first two sets, the Bears were able to outblock the Utes 7-5 the rest of the way.
Likely Bears 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.
Remember the Seniors:
The 4 Golden Bears seniors who will be honored tonight are middle hitter Shannon Hawari, middle hitter Kat Brown, opposite hitter Correy Johnson, and libero Robin Rostratter. All 4 of these players were key to the Bears' run to the NCAA championship game in 2010. Although this season has turned out to be more of a struggle than anticipated, all 4 of them have left long lasting marks in Cal Volleyball program history.
The 5th year senior from Plano, Texas showed great perseverance after losing her sophomore year to a torn ACL. Daily Cal has a great article this past week about Shannon's comeback.
The current Cal all time leader in hitting percentage at 0.366 (0.382 in the current season), Shannon will finish her career as the most efficient hitter in Cal history. Shannon also earned Pac-10 All Freshmen team honor in 2008, AVCA All-Pacific and Pac-10 Honorable Mention in 2010, and again All-Pacific and Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2011.
Similar to plenty of her teammates, Hawari is also pretty good in the classroom. She has earned Pac-12 All Academic honors for the second straight year, this season.
Most importantly, Hawari has stepped up as a leader for the current Bears. From the Daily Cal article:
This was also what I saw from the Pac-12 Networks broadcast, and the reason that I'm somewhat optimistic that the Bears can pull off an emotional upset tonight in honor of the Seniors.
Here is Shannon in an interview from an year ago:
The Winter Park, FL native is another super efficient Bears. Hobbled all year by "stress reaction in her leg" and missed 24 sets earlier this year, Correy actually has been unable to practice all year long.
Although she won't leave Cal with a nice record like her fellow seniors Hawari and likely Brown, Johnson had an equally illustrative Cal volleyball career. She was named to the Pac-10 All Freshmen team in 2009, got Pac-12 Honorable Mention in 2011, and was All-American honorable mention in 2010 (when the Bears advanced to the NCAA Championship game).
Correy was recently named to the Pac-12 All Academic Honorable Mention team for the second straight year.
The Aptos, Ca native has enjoyed better health than her fellow seniors in her Cal career. Kat is currently just 2 blocks away from the All Time Cal record in blocks (after 4 in the Utah match). The record breaker may happen tonight.
Even better than her teammates, Kat was recently named to the Pac-12 All Academic Honorable Mention team for the 3rd straight year.
Here is Kat giving a tour of her hometown of Aptos:
There is no telling how good this year's team would have been had Robin Rostratter been healthy. The Carlsbad, CA native has missed the entire season due to groin and back injuries. Unfortunately for Cal Volleyball, her inclusion in the pre-match honor probably mean that she is not going to medically redshirt and return next season.
Known for her blue taekwondo helmet (she is probably the only volleyball player to don such a gear to protect her head from further concussions) in addition to her different color jersey as the libero, Robin played fearlessly in the backrow. Given how the lack of consistent backrow passing and lack of depth has been the Bears' downfall this year (even with a stellar job by freshman Mary McKennon as the libero), the Bears sorely misses Rostratter.
Robin was the Lowe's Class award nominee for the Bears this year. Among her qualifications:
Rostratter has twice been named to the Pac-12 All-Academic team, and in 2010 won the NCAA Elite 88 Volleyball Award for having the highest grade point average (3.81) of any student-athlete participating in the NCAA championships. Rostratter has spearheaded countless charitable and philantrhopic causes. Among them, she has led outreach programs to spread awareness for cancer and physically challenged athletes, and served as a coach at Special Olympics athletic skills clinics and with the Cal Corps to help underprivileged children.
Here is Robin in an interview from 2010:
Cal's Chance of Making the NCAA Field
With a RPI of 39 (and 6th best for the Pac-12), the Bears are in pretty good position to make the NCAA field now that the Utah win has guaranteed their eligibility. The only possible way that the Bears may lose their spot, however, may be the unwillingness for the committee to have a 7th Pac-12 team in the field. 5 Pac-12 Teams (Furd, UCLA, USC, Washington, and Oregon) have been in the top-10 all season and are locks. Bears (39th) is currently ahead of Arizona (41st) and ASU (45th) in the RPI, prior to this week. While the Bears beat Utah (80th), ASU was able to upset Washington (12th). Arizona's loss to Wazzu probably knocked them out of contention. Between the Bears and the Sun Devils, Bears have better quality wins (@Hawaii, @Oregon) but now ASU has this win over Washington (@Washington), in addition to their season sweep of the Bears and a win over USC at home. While I do think the odds of both making the field is pretty good, the main reason why this might not happened would be the reluctance of the committee to have two sub-.500 in conference teams, even if it's from a powerhouse conference like the Pac-12.
Quick Glance of Stanfurd
Furd was ranked No.1 in the nation for much of the season on the strength of an outstanding freshmen class. They had a perfect conference record prior to being upset by USC last week. Stanfurd had owned the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award (when it's not won by USC's Samantha Bricio) with wins from setter Madi Bugg, outside hitter Jordan Burgess, middle blocker Inky Ajanaku (twice), and outside hitter Brittany Howard (twice). Junior middle blocker Carly Wopat have twice won the offensive player of the week honor for Furd.
Furd runs a 2 setter offense (I think it's a 6-2, but could be 4-2), employing 2 setters (Bugg 847 assists and senior Karissa Cook 421 assists). One of their defensive specialist is Mary Ellen Luck, sister of Andrew Luck.
Bottomline: with Furd losing their chance at a perfect conference record, they may be a bit more prone to lose this match. If the Bears can channel the emotions of Senior Night into great volleyball, there is just a chance that the Bears can pull off a huge surprise and recent cement their NCAA tournament candidacy.