Bears Bounce Back After First Loss of Season

Golden Gophers Knock Off Cal Before Bears Take Care of Cal Poly in Diet Coke Classic Finale

Photo: Freshman outside hitter Tarah Murrey was instrumental in the Bears' win over Notre Dame, notching the kill that forced a fifth set and shutting down the Irish attack late.
Skyler Reid/File
Freshman outside hitter Tarah Murrey was instrumental in the Bears' win over Notre Dame, notching the kill that forced a fifth set and shutting down the Irish attack late.

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Even the No. 4 Cal volleyball team didn't think this weekend's Diet Coke Classic would be as hard as it turned out to be.

In their biggest challenge of the season so far, the Bears (7-1) dropped their first match of the year to No. 11 Minnesota and endured five sets to topple unranked Notre Dame, before finally getting back on track with a victory over No. 16 Cal Poly in the tournament finale.

The tournament started off rough for the Bears in their Friday night opener.

In front of nearly 5,000 raucous Minnesota fans, a lackluster Cal squad lost out in nearly every statistical category to hand the host Golden Gophers a straight-set victory.

"We knew Minnesota was going to be a strong team, but I don't think we were mentally prepared enough going into that match," junior libero Kristen Kathan said. "A lot of the teams we've faced so far we've been able to skate through, and we definitely didn't have that sense of urgency We basically didn't show up to play."

The Bears committed a season-high 27 errors accompanied by a season-low .124 hitting percentage.

They were also out-blocked 12-4, in spite of their front row height advantage.

"We're extremely big and very physical, and we've got all the power in the world," coach Rich Feller said. "What we need to get better at is just controlling the ball to utilize that power more often, and then probably have a non-power part of game that we're a little bit better at ... Before we got here, we were able to out-muscle everybody and now we found out we can't."

Saturday's contest against the Fighting Irish was no easy ride either. The Irish, who lost to Cal in five last year, very nearly reversed the outcome this time around.

After winning the first set 25-17, the Bears dropped two in a row to put Notre Dame back in it.

With the game on the line, the players who stepped up most for Cal weren't the established veterans but the freshman duo of Shannon Hawari and Tarah Murrey.

Murrey closed out a tight 25-23 fourth-set victory for the Bears with a kill and helped hold the Irish to a -.056 hitting percentage in the crucial fifth set.

In the final two sets, Hawari and Murrey combined for 10 kills and two blocks.

"The freshmen came in from the bench, and they did really well," junior outside hitter Hana Cutura said. "(They) were leaders, too."

On getaway day, Cal matched up against the Mustangs.

The Bears lost the second set 25-19, but quickly righted the ship to cruise to a 3-1 win.

Cutura had 15 kills, a block, and two aces in the effort, and senior Am'ra Solomon notched a season-high 11 kills in just 17 tries.

While the goal of a three-match sweep wasn't realized this weekend, the loss may have served to better prepare the Bears for the unforgiving conference slate which begins in less than two weeks.

"Any time we get tested, that helps show and build the character of the team," Feller said. "This team learned a lot from being on the road together for the first time, playing a very highly ranked team for the first time, and having to play three matches back-to-back for the first time.

"It's all coming together, I think. There's going to be some more learning that goes on for sure, but that's all good too."


Contact Katie Dowd at [email protected]

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