No. 3 Washington Provides Huge Test for Ailing Bears

Photo: <b>Kristen Kathan</b> leads the Bears with 176 digs on the year. The senior libero, who averages 3.38 digs per set, is now in fifth on the program's all-time list in the defensive category.
Emma Lantos/File
Kristen Kathan leads the Bears with 176 digs on the year. The senior libero, who averages 3.38 digs per set, is now in fifth on the program's all-time list in the defensive category.

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If the No. 15 Cal volleyball team can beat currently infallible Washington, it would be like overcoming a sickness.

No, seriously.

After getting swept in Los Angeles last weekend, the Bears' play was representative of the health of several of their key players: poor.

"We had three or four players with colds and flu last weekend," coach Rich Feller said. "We had to hold a few people out of practice because of it. Hopefully, we're all getting better."

Despite the viral setback, the players' heads seem to be clearing in every sense in preparation for tonight's tilt with the No. 3 Huskies at Haas Pavilion.

"Whenever you lose, you're going to examine things more carefully," Feller said. "We've been working on a lot of specific defensive positioning and attacking from different zones of the net. We've even thrown a few new sets in there to try and loosen up the other team's defense a little."

Washington is undefeated, but it is hardly skimming its way to victory. Coach Jim McLaughlin's squad has yet to lose a set this season, and it is winning each set by an average score of 25-16.

While a matchup like this defines a season for some, it's merely another highly competitive game for the Bears.

The Bears faced two top-five teams in the nation in the same weekend earlier this season in Texas and Hawaii and have faced three consecutive ranked squads to open Pac-10 play.

"It's an excellent opportunity for us not only to increase our level of play but to see where we want to be at," senior libero Kristen Kathan said. "That's a final four team, hands down, and that is where we want to be at the end of the season."

The Pac-10 is stacked with several of the best teams in the nation, but it would not be remiss to say that Washington stands alone at the top of an excellent conference.

The Huskies have rolled through the first two weekends of conference play.

From the stat sheet, it appears that senior outside hitter Jill Collymore leads the Huskies because she has a team-high 134 kills. Collymore is joined by four other potent offensive threats in Kindra Carlson, Airial Salvo, Becky Perry and Bianca Rowland. The four all have at least 92 kills this season and are viable options.

With 42 consecutive set victories, it is clear that Washington is solid in every facet of the game. In addition to Collymore and Carlson, senior libero Tamari Miyashiro is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.

"Tamari is one of the best liberos around," junior setter Carli Lloyd said. "She is really good."

To avoid a three-game skid, the Bears (8-5, 1-2 in the Pac-10) need to avoid allowing points in bunches, an issue that arose in both losses last weekend.

"When there's a bad error on our side, we drop our head because we're all perfectionists," Lloyd said. "We need to be getting two- to three-point runs back and we need to be getting every first ball."

Regardless of what struggles the team has endured, this match could determine the its competitiveness within the Pac-10.

"Again we're going to be the underdog," Feller said. "And I like being the underdog."


Contact Gabriel Baumgaertner at [email protected]

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