Conditioning Key for Cal in Tournament

Photo: Sophomore middle hitter Kat Brown has 12 block assists and 20 kills in her nine sets played for the Bears. Her average of 1.33 blocks per set is second-best on the squad.
Nick Fradkin/File
Sophomore middle hitter Kat Brown has 12 block assists and 20 kills in her nine sets played for the Bears. Her average of 1.33 blocks per set is second-best on the squad.

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The players' legs have to stay up in one exercise the No. 10 Cal volleyball team performs. They kick and flail as they twist their bodies back and forth, but their feet never touch the ground. And that's after a couple of hours of practice in the gym.

The strength and conditioning generated from such rigorous exercise will come in handy this weekend when the Bears host three matches in less than 24 hours, beginning with their tilt against UC Davis at 7 p.m., tonight.

Cal (4-0) will wrap up the Hilton Garden Inn Classic tomorrow when the squad faces Seton Hall (3-4) at 11 a.m., and Fresno State (2-4) at 4:30 p.m.

Not that the players are at all worried about the task ahead.

"I think we're a well-conditioned team," middle hitter Kat Brown said. "We should be fine with that."

After all, the squad has had two-a-day practices that can total up to six hours in the gym on any given day. Moreover, it is common during the preseason to to play several matches in a short time-span, according to coach Rich Feller.

"Early in the season, it's okay," he said. "They can deal with it. They're in great physical shape."

The amount of matches will give Feller the chance to go deep into his bench. He will be able to experiment with different combinations.

"We do have some depth at some positions," Feller said. "(We'll) sub sparingly, little by little. We have options."

Obviously, the other three teams will have to deal with the same endurance and fatigue issues as the Bears, but they won't have a target on their backs. Given a chance to beat a top-10 team, Cal's opponents will be even more amped up than usual.

"We've been having really intense practices," defensive specialist Meagan Schmitt said. "Physically and mentally we're ready for the challenge."

The challenge begins with the Aggies (3-2), who swept Texas State, Texas Tech and SMU in a three-match tournament last weekend. UC Davis was led by junior middle blocker Betsy Sedlak, whose 35 kills, .526 hitting percentage and 15 blocks over the 12 sets merited MVP honors.

Keeping Sedlak in check will be key for the Bears. But besides the 6-foot-3 Oregon transfer, the three squads have few players that can match Cal's height and athleticism. The Bears effectively took advantage of their size advantage during two wins last weekend. Cal recorded 22 team blocks in the six sets.

"We're just trying to get up there on the blocks," Brown said, "take up a lot of space when they're hitting."

The Bears' blocking highlighted their hard-fought win over No. 25 San Diego on Saturday. Cal currently leads the Pac-10 with a .062 opponent hitting percentage.

With an ever-improving new offense to complement a ferocious defense, the Bears look to be in great shape for this weekend's marathon of matches.


Jonathan Kuperberg covers volleyball. Contact him at [email protected]

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