Bears To Face First And Last Real Challenge of Preseason

Photo: Sophomore defensive specialist Robin Rostratter, seen here serving, leads the Bears in service aces with 10. She also leads the team with 72 digs in 24 sets played.
Emma Lantos/File
Sophomore defensive specialist Robin Rostratter, seen here serving, leads the Bears in service aces with 10. She also leads the team with 72 digs in 24 sets played.

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After a preseason of decimating its inferior competition, the No. 10 Cal volleyball team will finally face a worthy adversary this weekend.

Following tonight's 7 p.m., bout against San Francisco at War Memorial Gym, the Bears (8-0) will end their preseason with St. Mary's tomorrow at 7 p.m., at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif.

Though coach Rich Feller calls the Dons a "pesky squad," it's hard to envision that the 1-8 team from across the Bay will present Cal with any legitimate challenge. The Gaels (7-3) are likely the only team capable of pulling off a win, or at the very least a set, against the Bears before conference season.

"They're our best competition so far," junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey said. "They're good to lead into Pac-10."

St. Mary's, which began the season ranked No. 25, has held its own against top teams in the country.

The Gaels played both No. 14 UCLA and No. 6 Hawaii tough, winning a set in each loss. In fact, on the Rainbow Wahines' home floor, St. Mary's nearly came up with the upset, registering at least 22 points in all four sets.

Sophomore outside hitter Lauren Corp paces the Gaels with 3.08 kills per set. As a reference point, only one Cal player tops that mark - Murrey and her 4.79 average.

Senior middle blocker Shannon Lowell leads St. Mary's with 1.13 blocks per set. Her sophomore counterpart, Gabby Jolly, recorded 31 kills and seven blocks in three matches last weekend.

"They're going to fight back the whole match," middle hitter Kat Brown said. "When we (last) played them ... we struggled with them a bit."

Corp recorded 17 kills in that match, which the Bears squeaked by in four sets (22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-18) on Aug. 29 of last year. One major change since that match is on the coaching end.

Cal hired former St. Mary's assistant coach Sam Crosson in the offseason to replace Matt McShane, who took the head coaching position at Air Force. Crosson, the mastermind of the Bear's quick-paced offensive system, employed the same tactic as an assistant for the Gaels last season.

"A lot of things we're doing, they're doing," Murrey said. "Our systems are very similar - swing blocking, faster sets."

Cal knows the way to play the particular scheme; on Saturday, they need to prove that it can beat it.

The Bears' ability to complete kills against the Gaels' stout defense will be key. The Bears' .391 hitting percentage currently leads the country, but St. Mary's defense will be the best they've seen this year.

"They're a scrappy team," Murrey said. "We need to kick it into (the next) gear."


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

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