Cal Hosts First Round of NCAA Tourney

Photo: Senior outside hitter Am'ra Solomon was named an honorable mention on the all-conference team earlier this week. She is currently second on the team in kills, with 280.
Nick Fradkin/File
Senior outside hitter Am'ra Solomon was named an honorable mention on the all-conference team earlier this week. She is currently second on the team in kills, with 280.

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Earlier this week, Cal volleyball coach Rich Feller prefaced an announcement with an advisory.

First, Feller stressed to his players to not get ahead of themselves and to keep their focus on the match against Siena College in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament.

Then, he told them that they needed to make arrangements for finals week should they have to fly to University Park, Penn., the site of the Pennsylvania regional.

With the potential of a quarterfinal rematch with No. 1 Penn State awaiting them there-the team that dealt the Bears a three-set sweep in last year's semifinals-it can't be easy for No. 8 Cal to avoid looking past the unranked Saints.

But Feller is making the team's mantra very clear.

"Our mentality is basically one team at a time," sophomore setter Carli Lloyd said. "All we're worried about right now is Siena. We're focusing on them as a team That's what Rich (Feller) keeps saying to us. Just one team at a time. Can't focus on next week or even Saturday."

Eighth-seed Cal (23-6, 13-5 in the Pac-10) hosts the Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Saints (20-12, 15-3 in the MAAC) in the first round of the NCAA tournament tonight at 8 p.m. at Haas Pavilion. Siena has only played one ranked opponent all season, a 3-1 loss to BYU in the first month of the season.

"We have very limited information on (Siena), so again it's back to even more focus on our side of the net," Feller said. "I think there's a renewed energy because everyone knows this is now. This is tournament time. It's why we work for 12, 14 weeks to get to this point."

This week in practice, the coaches introduced several new offensive looks for the team to experiment with, including moving outside hitter Hana Cutura-who leads the conference in kills per set with 4.47-around the court to give her better looks against the opponents' block.

The team has also been trying to reintegrate their middle blockers back into their offense, as sets to the middles have been scarse lately.

And while the additional offensive schemes haven't made for the most harmonious practices, the players noted the value of integrating an additional facet into their game going into the postseason, whether or not the sets are actually put into play.

"It's been frustrating," junior middle blocker Mindi Wiley said. "We're changing a lot of things and it's not clicking right away, but we're getting better and that's the bottom line. We need to get better, and it's happening."

Should the Bears defeat the Saints, they will advance to play the winner of tonight's 6 p.m. matchup between St. Mary's and New Mexico State on Saturday night. If Cal loses, it will mean an abrupt end to its 2008 postseason.

"There's the realization that if you lose one, you're done," Feller said. "There is no tomorrow. There is no, 'Hey, we've got two matches this weekend. We'll get a little bit better in the first one and get really better in the second one.' You have to be good right away. So I think that really changes the mentality and the focus."


Contact Katie Dowd at [email protected]

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