Scrimmage Shows Off Revamped Front Row

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It takes a lot to steal the spotlight away from Hana Cutura, the Cal volleyball team's 6-foot-4 outside hitting machine. But at Saturday evening's Blue and Gold intrasquad scrimmage, sophomore Tarah Murrey easily stole a bit of the limelight for herself.

Murrey, who was a freshman all-Pac-10 selection last season, exploded on the outside in each of the four sets that the No. 6 Bears played. Murrey looked physically stronger and more fit than last year and was putting hard, mid-season-form swings on the ball.

"I couldn't really be happier," coach Rich Feller said. "It's been a good preseason. The team has just gelled as a unit really, really fast."

Overall, Cal looks the most stacked in the place where it had the most trouble last season-the front row. With seniors Kat Reilly and Morgan Beck battling injury all season, the Bears were often undersized and less-than-healthy up front. But this season, Cal returns All-American Cutura, Murray and middle blockers Mindi Wiley and Shannon Hawari.

"Right now, I think our front row is looking stronger than ever," senior co-captain Kristen Kathan said. "The fact that everyone's healthy, that's half the battle right there. The size, the experience up there, from this year compared to last year, there's no comparison."

The scrimmage also afforded a first look at the team's seven freshmen, most of whom were recruited to fill spots in the front row.

Of the new faces on the roster, middle blocker Correy Johnson made the biggest impression. Johnson looked nearly game-ready, assisting on two blocks in the first set and notching a good number of kills as the night wore on. The towering Florida native was called "the leading candidate" for playing time among the new recruits by Feller.

Middle blocker Tia Gaffen also impressed with her sheer size and quickness, closing the gaps to record several blocks. Johnson attributed the freshmen's ability to quickly adapt to the Bears' high-intensity style of play to practicing against the best.

"We block against Hana and Tarah. We have Kristin digging us in the back row," Johnson said. "We have some of the best players in the country playing against us."

Cal's other All-American, junior setter Carli Lloyd, also showed off her usual form, reeling off several beautiful, pinpoint-accurate cross-court sets. The coaching staff changed the team combinations for each set, but perhaps it was no coincidence that the team that Lloyd set for won each time.

The Bears now have a week to prepare for their first tournament of the year in Reno, Nev., where they will face UC Irvine, St. Mary's and Connecticut.

"We're as good as our weakest player," Kathan said, "and right now our weakest player is looking pretty good."


Contact Katie Dowd at [email protected]

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