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Big Spike: Cal Volleyball at Stanford in penultimate match of 2015

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Golden Bears are again going to miss the NCAA tournament. They can close the season on a high note however, if they can upset Stanford down at The Farm tonight.

The 4 graduating seniors of Cal Volleyball are looking to end their career on a high note.
The 4 graduating seniors of Cal Volleyball are looking to end their career on a high note.
Cal Volleyball Facebook

Bears nearly pushed Stanford to a 5th set but fell by a score of 25-22, 18-25, 25-13, 25-23 on Wednesday night in the Big Spike.

Lillian Schonewise has a season high 20 kills. Christina Alftin contributed 16 kills. Overall, Bears hit quite well for the match at 0.276 (hitting percentage is kind of like a batting average...around 0.300 is pretty good).  Oh yeah, Schonewise hit 0.576 for the match.

The first two sets were both a back-and-forth affair. Bears were actually ahead in set 1 before Stanford took over and won the set. Just when it looks like Stanford is going to roll through the Bears, Bears went on a big run to win set 2. While set 3 was all Furd, Bears fought until the end.

In a season where the Bears faded early and then never recovered, being able to come back and win that second set was huge. That's certainly the kind of experience we could use going forward in our return to prominence.

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California Golden Bears (9-20, 3-15 in Pac-12) at No.6 Stanford Cardinal (20-6, 14-4 in Pac-12)

Where: Maples Pavilion

When: 8 pm PT

TV: Pac-12 Bay Area

Longer time readers know that I am a big Cal Volleyball fan. I haven't write as much on them for these past two seasons due to both the emergence of Cal Soccer and the lack of success for Cal Volleyball. In 2015, Cal Volleyball took a step toward being back in national relevance. After being winless in the Pac in 2014, the Bears already earned 3 conference win in the toughest volleyball conference in the country. With a heavy dose of optimism, I will look toward 2016, and point out a few keys for the Bears to return to prominence.

1. Find a reliable outside hitter

The top recruits for the Bears for these past two years have been outside hitters in Ashten Smith-Gooden and Savannah Rennie. Neither of these girls saw any game action this year, presumably due to injuries. Bears need one or both of them to be healthy or another blue chip recruit to take over the outside hitter spot.

We miss the good old day of having someone like a Mia Jerkov, Tarah Murrey, Hana Cutera, or Angie Pressey - a reliable outside hitter capable of taking 50+ swings per match when nothing else seems to be working. The players that have been forced into this spot for the Bears these past few seasons are more complementary players.

2. Better passing from the frontline

Since many great outside hitters are not the best passers, I don't know if one of the hurt OH on the roster is already the answer for this, but Bears can really use an all rotation outside hitter who can also stabilize any rotation. Bears have way too many rotations this year where they just don't have the right personnel to get the necessary side outs. Maddy Kerr and the other DS's are great but hiding the frontline is only so much of a sound strategy.

Yes, I am saying that one superstar all around player can be the answer for both 1 and 2.

3. Replace Lillian Schonewise in the middle

Height is most definitely not an issue for this roster, nevertheless replacing a potential All-American in Lillian Schonewise is going to be a tall order. Junior Jenelle Jordan has shown that ability, and I'm still waiting for the aptly named Laura Leap to jump into the rotation.

Schonewise has had a great year as the go to person for the Bears (partially due to the lack of a reliable OH). From CalBears.com:

She enters the week ranked fifth in the Pac-12 with a .371 hitting percentage and has the most total attacks of any player ranked in the top-10. Her 3.08 kills per set average is second among all Pac-12 middle blockers. In conference matches only, when the competition is toughest, she leads all Pac-12 middle blockers at 3.30 kills per set. Her hitting percentage in Pac-12 matches is .381, which is fourth in the conference. Schonewise also has the fourth-highest career hitting percentage all-time at Cal at .323.

It's too bad that the Bears lack enough talent around Lillian for her to experience more on-the-court success during her Cal career.

4. Rich Feller needs to find his mojo in recruiting

Certain other Cal forum has people calling for Rich Feller's job. Like the typical CGB stance on Jeff Tedford, I am on the side of giving Coach Rich Feller more time to turn the program around. Injuries of key players is (most likely) not Coach Feller's fault, but the lack of impact recruits and backups (much tougher to do this at Cal given the scholarship limitations) to overcome the injuries does fall under the responsibility of the head coach.

Additionally, after few seasons removed from when we didn't have enough healthy bodies to even practice competitively. The roster is now full of players who can have flashes of brilliance but lack that consistency. I don't know what is going on behind the scene, but you would think that the coaching staff would have settled on a set lineup rather than play this player carousel. Of course, losing does prompt changes.

5. Bears need to learn to close people out

Unlike last year, many matches this year start out with a very tight set or two. Unfortunately, a majority of these sets still go the way of our opponents. Hopefully, the experiences of these heartbreaking sets would eventually lead to the necessary toughened team mentality for success next season.

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I honestly have not made up my mind on how good Cal setter Alyssa Jensen is. Yes, she's no Cal great and CGB Hall of Famer Carli Lloyd, but how much of the blame of the hitters not finding the floor is on her or on the hitter - it is hard to figure that out from catching a few matches online this year.

Anyhow, the Bears took a set from the Cardinal in the Pac-12 opening match-up. I do think the gap between the two programs is not as big as the record would indicate. If things all go optimally for the Bears, there is a chance.

To close the season on Friday, the Bears will take on No.1 USC at Galen Center at 4pm. It will be another tough test for the Bears, but also another chance for the 2015 team to show that they have the ability to beat anyone this year.

GO BEARS!