Cal Takes No. 8 Ranking To Zona in Pac-10 Opener

Photo: Junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey is handily leading the squad in kills; her 146 kills is third-best in the conference. Her 5.35 points per set is also the third-best in the Pac-10.
Kellen Freeman/File
Junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey is handily leading the squad in kills; her 146 kills is third-best in the conference. Her 5.35 points per set is also the third-best in the Pac-10.

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The No. 8 Cal volleyball team has played 10 matches and won all but one set, but ask the Bears about their season and they'll say it hasn't started.

Conference play kicks off tonight when Cal opens with Arizona at 7 p.m., at the McKale Memorial Center in Tucson, Ariz. The Bears (10-0) will then travel to Tempe to face Arizona St. in a 12:30 matinee on Sunday.

"The Pac-10 is truly a different season focus," coach Rich Feller said. "There's no mediocre competition in the Pac-10 ... They're all good."

Feller said the Wildcats (10-2), who have won 15 straight sets, are representative of the conference in terms of their height and athleticism. For instance, all of their middle blockers are at least 6-foot-1.

"It's a different level," sophomore middle hitter Shannon Hawari said. "We have to pick up the competitive urgency, be ready, get our block together."

Cal leads the Pac-10 in blocks per set, with an average of 2.94; however, but Bears' net play will be rigorously tested against more formidable competition, especially up front.

Arizona, which was ranked No. 18 in preseason, features a pair of senior outside hitters in Tiffany Owens and Whitney Dosty.

Owens is coming off a 22-kill, one error performance in the Wildcats' win over New Mexico St.

Dosty is seventh in the Pac-10 with a 3.95 kills-per-set average. The Bears know that Arizona setter Paige Weber will pass to Dosty frequently, and they will react accordingly.

"They hit a lot of balls to their outside hitters, a lot from the right side of the court," Feller said. "We have to defend a lot of the antenna, the pin sets."

If Hawari and the other Cal blockers are unable to block or disrupt the Wildcats' kill attempts, the Bears' defense will need libero Robin Rostratter to put on another career match. The sophomore, who had a career-high 20 digs last weekend against San Francisco, expects a strong team effort.

"My goal for the game is definitely to have good communication, go all out," she said, "(and) not let anything touch my court."

Besides talented athletes like Owens and Dosty, the Pac-10 offers another challenge to Cal: road matches in hostile environments.

Although preparing for Pac-10 road matches is the reason Feller scheduled away matches at USF and St. Mary's, the passive WCC crowds are not the same as in the Pac-10, specifically at the McKale Memorial Center. Arizona is known to host particularly rowdy spectators.

"The crowd is really loud and close to the court," Hawari said. "It should be interesting for the freshmen."

Hawari, the nation's leader in hitting percentage, knows her squad just needs to stay focused and not concentrate on the fans, the other team or the fact that it's a Pac-10 match.

Feller concurred, saying it's the same game no matter where it is played.

Cal hopes the result is the same too.


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

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