Bears Seek Season Sweep in Big Spike

Photo: Senior setter Carli Lloyd will play in the final Big Spike of her Cal career tonight. With 10 more digs, Lloyd will be the third setter and 12th player in Cal's history to reach 1,000 digs.
Emma Lantos/Photo
Senior setter Carli Lloyd will play in the final Big Spike of her Cal career tonight. With 10 more digs, Lloyd will be the third setter and 12th player in Cal's history to reach 1,000 digs.

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The Cal volleyball team has been in this position before. Last month when the No. 4 Bears took on No. 2 Stanford, the two squads were tied for the conference lead and held the same national rankings.

By defeating the Cardinal (22-2, 13-2 in the Pac-10) in four sets at Maples Pavilion last month, Cal (23-2, 13-2) seized sole possession of first in the Pac-10. The Bears lost that stronghold by falling to No. 6 USC two weeks ago and are now tied with Stanford for tops in the conference. Tonight at Haas Pavilion at 7 p.m., coach Rich Feller's squad has a chance to stand alone at the top with only two games left in conference play.

"It's harder to win the Pac-10 conference than it is to win a national championship," coach Rich Feller said. "It's very difficult to beat the teams in our conference often enough, two times in most cases, to win the title."

If Cal wins, the team will have swept the season series against the Cardinal for the first time in 31 years and posted the best record in program history. It also puts them in position to clinch the first Pac-10 title in school history.

This is not the same Stanford squad that played Cal a month ago. The return of setter Karissa Cook allowed Stanford to move into its normal 6-2 offense, which it didn't run in the Cardinal's loss. The 6-2 features three hitters in the front row as opposed to two in some rotations.

That means that senior setter/outside hitter Cassidy Lichtman is freed up to attack. Lichtman was restriced to setting when the teams first met, denying the Cardinal a primary offensive weapon. Feller points out that the additional attacker may mean fewer sets for Alix Klineman, the conference leader in kills.

"It doesn't affect us as much as other teams that may commit block more, but the way we bunch block and read, the 6-2 is not that much different for us," Feller said.

Stanford leads the Pac-10 in all offensive categories, but the Bears will counter with a defense that posts the most blocks in the Pac-10 and third-most in the nation. Stanford's has hit .321 this season, while Cal holds opponents to .170 on average.

Stanford may have a better hitting percentage, but Cal checks in at second in the conference in that same category. Lloyd has consistent hitters in the middle and outside positions, and junior Tarah Murrey is a threat regardless of where she stands on the court.

The Bears are most confident in their speed and endurance, and hope to wear the Cardinal hitters down.

"They're used to being terminal, and we're used to long rallies, grinding to get points," Murrey said.

Should Cal be able to dig balls from Stanford's lethal front line, Feller likes his team's chances.

"It's who wins the long rallies, but it's also who stays in system most," Feller said. "That will allow that team's offense to dictate the tempo of the match."


Christina Jones covers volleyball. Contact her at [email protected]

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