Vengeful Opponents Await Cal in Minnesota

Photo: Junior libero Kristin Kathan will be need to be in top defensive form this weekend against two ranked opponents that both boast large, physical hitters.
Nick Fradkin/File
Junior libero Kristin Kathan will be need to be in top defensive form this weekend against two ranked opponents that both boast large, physical hitters.


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Heading into this weekend's Diet Coke Classic Tournament, the No. 4 Cal volleyball team knows it has a big target on its back.

That's because along with the chance of bringing the Bears down in the rankings, their tourney opponents have revenge on their minds.

Over the course of the previous two seasons, No. 11 Minnesota, Notre Dame, and No. 16 Cal Poly have each suffered a loss to Cal.

The Gophers, who host the three-day tournament, lost 3-0 last season when they traveled to Berkeley for the Golden Bear Invitational.

The Fighting Irish, on the other hand, managed to win the first two sets, before the Bears came back to take the last three sets for a 3-2 win.

And as for the Mustangs, their defeat at the hands of Cal probably stung the most, as it came in the second round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament in Cal Poly's own gymnasium.

"We've got to keep reminding ourselves that we are a target," junior Mindi Wiley said. "We don't want to lose that number four ranking, and that's enough motivation for us to win this weekend. No one likes to lose, and we're not looking to do that at all this weekend."

If the Bears (5-0) plan on maintaining their perfect record this weekend, they will have to overcome perhaps their toughest test yet this season. In addition to playing ranked teams for the first time, Cal will also be on its first road trip.

But despite the task of going on the road and playing three matches in just as many days, the Bears are not treating this tournament differently from any other preseason tourney.

"Our strategy doesn't really change," senior Morgan Beck said. "We go out focusing on our own game, and we've done that the past two weekends. So we're going to continue improving our game and playing Cal volleyball against these teams."

Unlike the other teams they have faced this season, the Bears will not have much of a physical edge against these squads.

"All three teams match up...very well in terms of size," Bears coach Rich Feller said. "(Minnesota) is the same size across the net and even taller at certain positions. As far as the other two teams go, they also have quickness."

Defense will play a big part this weekend. In last week's Golden Bear Invite, Cal, perhaps caught a bit off guard, struggled at first to adjust its defense to the hitting of DePaul and UC Riverside and found itself down by five points more than once.

"I think we lacked urgency and let what they were doing get to our heads instead of us stepping in and taking control like we wanted to," Wiley said.

While Feller was impressed with his squad's ability to adjust, he believes playing on the road will be a challenge.

Blocking, specifically, will not just require shutting down hitters completely, but also getting touches so that libero Kristen Kathan can put the ball back into the offensive system.

"Winning the tournament will demand quite a bit of good execution and disciplined team play," Feller said. "It's just going to be different now, because we're in somebody else's home and it's tougher to make adjustments without the crowd support and the familiarity of your own locker room."

Tags: RICH FELLER, CAL VOLLEYBALL, MINDI WILEY, MORGAN BECK


Contact Jimmy Tran at [email protected]



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