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Simply put, this is a MUST-WIN match. After a valiant but ultimately disheartening loss last night to the fifth ranked Washington where the Bears couldn't convert on two match points in 5 sets, the Bears (13-12, 7-8) now face Pac-12 cellar dweller Washington State (12-15, 2-13). Bears can't afford a let down game if they want to possibly make the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight year. GO BEARS!
When: 6 PM PT
TV/Online: Pac-12 Networks (online for subscribers only)
Score update: Cal Volleyball twitter (@CalVolleyball)
Quite frankly, I'm scared about this match. Sure, Wazzu has only managed to beat Utah (who the Bears hasn't played) and Colorado (who the Bears had to beat in 5 sets on the road) this season in conference but they had much more rest yesterday after being swept by Stanfurd in 3 sets while the Bears and the Washington Huskies went the distance last night. While I though the Bears exhibit pretty positive body language after the loss yesterday, I'm not exactly the best at reading body languages.
To be eligible for the NCAA tournament, the Bears would need to be at least .500 for the season. Given 3 of the last 5 matches are against top 10 teams in the LA schools in LA and No. 1 in the country, Furd, the Bears basically need to win the other two matches - tonight against the Washington State Cougars and the next to last regular season match against the Utah Utes (who the Bears hasn't face yet in this year's no longer true round robin schedule). While the Volleyball Golden Bears has excelled in these past two matches against top 10 teams in the last 1.5 week, it is still hard to guarantee that the Bears would even get a solid chance in those matches. In fact, if you believe that the Bears were playing with house money last night, then you sure hope they don't tense up and slip up tonight.
Nevertheless, the Bears' play have really elevated lately and a lot of it has to do with the more consistent play in the back row from OH recruit Nikki Gombar, who has Jr team experience with Italy (she is a true Italian-American from Rome). Gombar led the team last night with 17 digs. Freshman libero, Mary McKennon has been so solid by now that it was no surprise that she put up 15 digs. Given it was a long 5 setter, Cal's other Defensive Specialist Marlee Davis got 10 digs while the two all around players in setter Joan Caloiro and now healthy Adrienne Gehan contributed 14 and 11 digs, respectively. More consistency in the back row passing has been instrumental in giving the Bears better chances lately.
One area that could used a lot of improvement lately, has been the service errors that the Bears has accrued. While Nikki Gombar and Marlee Davis were great defensively, they both had way too service errors last night (5 for Gombar, 3 for Davis....Shannon Hawari who has now begin to play more backrow as well given the Bears' lack of DS also contributed 3 errors). While this was not as big of a factor given how bad serving was contagious last night, you really don't want the team to give points away.
Hitting-wise, the Bears had a great night last night with Shannon Hawari and Correy Johnson hitting their usual insanely good percentages at 0.556 and 0.353 with 17 and 16 kills apiece, respectively. Christina Higgins was leaned on heavily early for 18 kills overall but the Bears went away from her in set 4 for some reason. The new floor general this year, Joan Caloiro racked up 66 assists while last week's Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, Kat Brown, was instrumental in the Bears getting 12.5 blocks.
Again, the Bears need this match and the relatively shallow team (mainly due to injuries) hopefully are fit enough to quickly dismantle the Cougars tonight. Bears defeated the Cougars in 3 straight sets in Pullman earlier this year.
Statistical oddity? The Bears are a perfect 3-0 in 5 set matches on the road this year, including wins over top 10 ranked teams in Hawaii and Oregon (Colorado is the other one) but are 0-2 in 5 setter at home (losses to Arizona State and Washington). Is the team somehow distracted or too pumped at home? Looking way too far ahead, would hosting the volleyball regional actually be a curse? With a RPI of 35 heading into this week and the SoS being boosted by the tough opponents the rest of the way, the Bears really have a strong chance of making the tournament if they meet the 0.500 record eligibility.