I was unsure which Cal team would show up today against a top 20 team in North Carolina. Fortunately, it was the good Cal Bears that was on the UW Field House this afternoon as the Bears defeated the Tar Heels in 3 sets: 25-20, 25-18, 25-20. The Bears hit .411 for the set, including an incredible .600 in set 2. While senior star Adrienne Gehan still does not appear to be 100%, hitting only .278 for the match, Bears got plenty of kills from a surprisingly efficient Michelle Neumayr (team high 11 kills on .391 hitting), Lara Vukasovic (10 on .500 hitting in the middle and 6 blocks), and Christina Higgins (9 kills and 4 blocks). Setter Joan Caloairo got 5 kills while dishing out 37 assists. Maddy Kerr only got 11 digs as there weren't that many balls returned by the Tar Heels.
The Live Video link below is still working as one can replay the video of the match (but not sure for how much longer).
The Bears will next take on the winner between the home team Wisconsin and Milwaulkee. Wisconsin is another top 15 team, and they would have the home court advantage, whatever that may means. The Round 2 match is scheduled for 4 pm PT. It would be interesting to see if the Bears can maintain the hot hitting of today tomorrow.
ROLL ON YOU BEARS!
3 p.m. PT - Cal (17-12) vs. North Carolina (27-4)
UW Field House - Madison, WI
Coverage: Live Video, Live Audio, Live Stats, Twitter: @CalVolleyball
All-Time Series vs. the Tar Heels: 2-2 (1-2 in NCAA Tournament)
Last meeting: L, 3-1 (11-29-2012, in NCAA Tournament first round)
For the 12th consecutive year, the Bears are back in the NCAA Tournament. For the 4th consecutive years, the Bears are playing North Carolina in the tournament. For the 3rd consecutive years, this meeting is coming in the first round. The Bears' season came to an end at the hands of the Tar Heels in the past two years, can the Bears return the favor this year?
Somewhat similar to the Cal Men's Soccer, Cal Volleyball kind of faltered down the stretch after it was clear that they have secured a NCAA tournament berth. Just like how Cal Men's Soccer's senior captain Steve Birnbaum got hurt and was rested for the postseason, Cal Volleyball's senior captain Adrienne Gehan has also missed most of the past three weeks. Gehan actually returned for a little bit for the Big Spike but only played a few rotations in the first few sets.
What makes the late Cal slide (5 match losing streak to end the regular season) that much more worrisome is that starting middle blocker/outside hitter Lara Vukasovic and outside hitter Michelle Neumayr both also missed time due to injury and illness. Bears either gave some valuable experiences to some backups (Janelle Jordan, Lindsey Parrott, Sarah Cole) to make a long postseason run (and potential matchup plays) or will have to depends on the youngsters to carry the load. On the other, Christina Higgins has picked up her play as the number one go to player with Gehan out, though Higgins still cannot really play the backrow to be a full rotation player. It would be fun to see both of them playing with full strength.
By RPI, North Carolina are the 22nd best team, which is roughly the ranking of the Bears before their late slide due in part to injuries. The Bears are the 38th team in the latest RPI release, thanks in part for their .500 record in the very very tough Pac-12 conference that is sending 9 teams to the 64 team tournament. In the AVCA Coaches' poll, North Carolina are ranked 15th (potential round 2 opponent and host Wisconsin are 13th).
When things were going well for the Bears, they have shown the remarkable fighting spirit in not conceding any set despite being down. The Bears managed to save an insane (14) set points in a three set sweep of the Utes at Utah earlier this year. The Bears have also pushed the top 5 ranked USC and Washington to a deciding 5th set. At their best, the Bears can play with just about anyone in the country, yet this is also the season where the Bears have suffered some uncharacteristic losses (such as the home losses to Kansas State and the road loss to UC Davis early in the year). Which team will show up today?
Probable Cal Starters
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown
12 Joan Caloiaro S 5-11 Sr. Saratoga, Calif.
5 Adrienne Gehan OH 6-3 Sr. Dallas, Texas
18 Michelle Neumayr OH 6-1 So. San Mateo, Calif.
23 Christina Higgins OPP 6-2 Jr. Inglewood, Calif.
1 Lillian Schonewise MB 6-3 So. Papillion, Neb.
4 Lara Vukasovic MB 6-5 So. Zagreb, Croatia
9 Maddy Kerr L 5-7 Fr. San Diego, Calif.
I really hope this is the team that we see on the court today. In the ideal case, the Bears are led by senior setter Joan Caloiaro, a two year starter who was a transfer from USF and a cousin of beach volleyball legend Kerri Walsh. Adrienne Gehan is the starting outside hitter with Christina Higgins as the Opposite. Michelle Neumayr is finally healthy and has a very solid (although not particularly great statistically) all around game. Lara Vukasovic is mostly the middle with the team best hitting percentage. The Bears also run many slide plays to their other middle in Lillian Schonewise. Freshman libero Maddy Kerr is a brilliant backrow player that has really solidified the Bears' passing (passing is also a huge team focus this past offseason). Other Defensive Specialist used by the Bears are last year's libero in Mary McKennon, as well as Marlee Davis and Sarah Cole.
UNC has the ACC defensive player of the year in libero Ali McCurdy. Graduate student Jovana Bjelica is a conference first team selectee. Sophomore Paige Neuenfeldt is named to the second team while fellow sophomore Victoria McPherson is named to the 3rd team. Two of their four losses came at the hands of rival Duke.
SF Chronicle has a feature story on Cal libero Maddy Kerr. Here is an interesting excerpt on Maddy's famous father, Steve Kerr.
Twenty-five years ago, Maddy's father, Steve Kerr, was a sharp-shooting guard on an Arizona team that would reach the Final Four with such players as Sean Elliott, Tom Tolbert and Kenny Lofton.
In 1988, at the behest of a high school chum who was then a Cal student and writing for the Daily Californian, Kerr wrote a guest column for the newspaper in which he poked fun at Cal students and likened the school's Straw Hat Band to Shakey's Pizza employees.
So when Arizona came to old Harmon Gym for a game against Cal in February 1988, the Straw Hat Band presented to Kerr a pizza festooned with tuna and, as was its custom in those days, designated him its "Tuna of the Night" and serenaded him with elongated chants of "Tuuuuuuu-na!" every time he touched the ball.
"It was actually really fun," said Kerr, now an NBA analyst on TNT after a 15-year playing career in which he won five league championships, three with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. Kerr finished with a career shooting percentage of .454 from three-point range.
On Maddy Kerr herself:
"She's made for that position," Cal coach Rich Feller said. "We recruited her for that position. She has great athletic ability, for one. She has really good quickness. The hand-eye coordination is very acute. She also has the personality to be aggressive yet somewhat compassionate. She understands her teammates. As a libero, you're out there all the time."
Interesting storylines for today:
How healthy are the Bears? If the Bears are back to full strength, I actually like their chances to not only win today but also to get a possible upset win over Wisconsin tomorrow. I really don't know what to expect today (and maybe that can work to the Bears' advantage).
Is victory number 600 in the plan for today? Coach Rich Feller is still looking for that elusive 600th career win, since the Bears have been on that recent skid.
Can the Bears withstood the coldness of Madison?
Will Aaron Rodgers stop by to cheer on the Bears?