Bears Sweep Utah State in First Round of NCAA Tournament

Cal Advances to Second Round Meeting with North Carolina

Photo: Tarah Murrey goes up for a kill in the Bears' first round win over Utah State.
Evan Walbridge/Staff
Tarah Murrey goes up for a kill in the Bears' first round win over Utah State.

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The Cal volleyball team opened the NCAA tournament with a convincing victory over Utah State (24-9) on Friday night at Haas Pavilion, 25-15, 25-11, 25-20.

Junior Tarah Murrey and freshman Adrienne Gehan dominated the net with incredible shot selection, routinely finding back corners or open floor. The two outside hitters combined for 30 kills, four more kills than the whole Utah State team.

In a matchup of the Pac-10 and WAC's best blocking teams, the No. 4 Bears (26-3) clearly won the battle at the net, posting 12 blocks to the Aggies' 6 stops. Perhaps a greater testament to Cal's defensive effort was the collective .060 hitting percentage posted by Utah State.

"I think we did a good job of getting over early and shutting down some of their bigger hitters, which was helpful for getting the win," redshirt sophomore middle hitter Shannon Hawari said, who had a match-high eight blocks.

The teams exchanged points early before the Bears were able to string together three points to go up 11-7, forcing Aggie head coach Grayson DuBose called a timeout.

Gehan went on her own tear late in the first set, stuffing opposite side hitter Shay Sorensen, and registering two kills of her own all in the span of four points, putting Cal up 23-14.

Sorensen, Utah State's leading scorer in its recent upset over No. 7 Hawaii, did not manage a kill on 15 swings in the match. The sophomore clearly wasn't the only attacker struggling to earn points. Outside hitter Liz McArthur, the team's leader with eight kills, notched as many errors as she did points.

The Bears' offense was firing on all cylinders, however. Senior setter Carli Lloyd put up 35 assists, guiding the team to a .342 attack rate.

"Honestly, we didn't play volleyball like we are used to and usually do," McArthur said. "We were uncomfortable for most of the match and we let them dictate play and what was going on instead of taking control ourselves."

Cal, the seventh overall seed in the tournament, was firmly in the driver's seat in the second set, jumping out to a 7-1 lead. The Bears took another 7-1 run in the middle of the set to go up 19-7, and the Aggies couldn't recover.

With their season on the line, Utah State rallied to keep the third set close. Down by four, the Aggies rallied to tie at seven on a McArthur kill.

Knotted up again at 12, the Bears broke loose. Murrey slammed the ball down, and put up two big blocks with Hawari. Hawari and Johnson put down back-to-back kills, with the Cal run breaking only by a service error.

Utah State would not go down quietly. Setter Chelsea Fowles got her squad a much needed point on a dump, and went up with middle hitter Shantell Durrant for a block on Gehan to narrow the Bears' lead to 20-16. Durrant came up with two timely kills to bring the score to 22-19 in favor of Cal, but coach Rich Feller's squad was able to outlast DuBose's team.

"They were not going anywhere, they were ready to play and pushed back and fight," Lloyd said. "It took us realizing that and coming together to continue that mental focus after that to win the set."

The Bears will face North Carolina (25-9) on Saturday at 6 p.m., at Haas Pavilion in their second round matchup. The Tar Heels defeated Ole Miss in four sets earlier on Friday night. The winner of Saturday's tilt will stamp its ticket to the Seattle Regional to take place next weekend.


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

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