Bears to Host Opening Rounds of Tournament

Cal Faces Siena in First Round at Haas Pavilion, Could Meet Top-Seeded Penn State in Quarters

Photo: Junior outside hitter Hana Cutura ranks 11th in the nation and first in the Pac-10 in kills per set with an average of 4.47, and has compiled a total of 456 kills for the season.
Nick Fradkin/File
Junior outside hitter Hana Cutura ranks 11th in the nation and first in the Pac-10 in kills per set with an average of 4.47, and has compiled a total of 456 kills for the season.

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At first, the No. 8 Cal volleyball team wasn't sure that it was, in fact, hosting the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament.

The team listened in silence in the Club Room of Haas Pavilion on Sunday evening as the selection show announcers proclaimed that the Bears would be facing Siena College in Berkeley, Calif., in the first round of the tournament.

There was a slight pause, then sophomore setter Carli Lloyd's eyes widened.

"Oh my God," she shouted. "We're hosting."

From there, the celebration ensued.

"I'm so excited right now because it's my senior year and we get to host," outside hitter Am'ra Solomon said. "We have big dreams right now and our dream is beating all of these teams and winning a championship. And it starts with us hosting."

Cal-the No. 2 seed in the Pennsylvania regional and the eighth seed overall-is in the midst of one of the best seasons in program history. The Bears won a record 13 Pac-10 matches en route to a 23-6 overall record. The squad's 18-1 start to the year and streak of 29 straight sets won were also program-bests.

First up to test Cal on Friday at 8 p.m. are the Saints. Siena-the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference champion-owns a 20-12 overall record and lost to its only ranked opponent, but Bears coach Rich Feller refused to undervalue the importance of the first round.

"We're focusing on one match. Period," Feller said. "That's all we're going to look at. We need to get things better so we can play consistently throughout. Get a chance to play a team that doesn't know us very well so we can be relaxed and just play our game."

If the Bears make it out of the Berkeley region, they will travel to University Park, Penn., where the most formidable team in the tournament-No. 1 Penn State-will likely await them should they advance to the quarterfinals.

The Nittany Lions are coming off one of the most dominant seasons in the history of collegiate volleyball. The squad went a perfect 32-0 without dropping a single set in the regular season and maintained a season-long grasp on the top spot in the AVCA Division I Coaches Poll.

"They're obviously an amazing team," junior libero Kristen Kathan said. "It's like Rich said. It's one game at a time. And until we meet them, that's not going to be our focus. But when we do, we're going to be ready to go."

Last year, the Bears lost to Penn State in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament.

And while Cal ended the season in a slump that saw the team struggle to find its early consistency in passing and digging, the squad has expressed its belief that it will make a deep run in the tournament.

"This is the best Cal team ever," Feller said. "We've made history so many different ways and so many different times But now this is a new season completely. This is now. The 2008 championship season. One match Friday night and then we go from there."


Contact Katie Dowd at [email protected]

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