Seattle Gives Cal Familiar Surroundings in NCAA Regional Semis

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The Cal volleyball team may be away from Berkeley this weekend, but it is still hoping for some home-court advantage when it takes on Minnesota in Friday's regional semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.

The 5 p.m. match will take place at Washington's Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle. The No. 4 Bears (27-3) take on the Huskies in their court once a year, and thus are very familiar with the trip, local eateries and gym. Cal, the seventh seed in the tournament, is also hoping for some support from the Washington crowd during the match since it is representing the same conference.

"The fact that we get to stay on the West Coast and have a little more comfortable of a place to go is a great feeling," coach Rich Feller said.

No. 12 Minnesota (26-8), the tenth seed, has won its last nine matches and cruised through the first and second rounds against North Dakota State and Creighton, respectively. The Big Ten runner-up also defeated three-time defending NCAA champion Penn State to end the regular season.

Cal's three upperclassmen setter Carli Lloyd, defensive specialist Meagan Schmitt and outside hitter Tarah Murrey - are the only players to have taken on the Gophers. As a freshman, Lloyd guided the Bears to a 3-0 upset of Minnesota at Haas Pavilion, and the Gophers returned the favor on their home court the following year.

Like Lloyd, Minnesota middle hitter Lauren Gibbemeyer impressed as a freshman and now is leading the squad as a senior. Gibbemeyer is the team's biggest offensive weapon, hitting .373 on the season.

"I feel like their middles are really aggressive, and that's kind of different than what we're used to," libero Robin Rostratter said. "A lot of teams in the Pac-10 are outside dominant, so that will be a different look for us."

Not only will the difference impact back row play, but it will also change the blockers' mentalities.

"It just means that I'm really going to have to be patient in my block," said middle hitter Kat Brown, the Pac-10 leader in blocks. "I just have to be more aware of where the middle is on the court and being able to recognize her patterns."

While the Bears have their eyes on Gibbemeyer, the Gophers will be keying in on Murrey, who has led the team in kills in all but one match this season. Minnesota has a solid back row led by libero Jessica Granquist, an AVCA Mideast All-Region team selection. It will be particularly important for Lloyd to get her middle hitters going early to keep the Minnesota defense guessing.

Though most of this young Cal team has not faced any Gophers in collegiate competition, some have high school experience with their opponents.

Sophomore Tia Gaffen is Cal's first Minnesota-native on the team, and is intimately acquainted with some members of the Gopher squad. Gaffen played with a couple of the Gophers, but was particularly close to starting opposite side hitter Katherine Harms, and even vacationed with her family abroad.

"I know a bunch of the girls on Minnesota, but I just want to kick their butt and show them that California's better," Gaffen said.

Brown played with Minnesota defensive specialist Steffi Sooter in club volleyball her senior year of high school.

The match marks Cal's fifth consecutive appearance in the regional semifinal. Should the team defeat Minnesota, it will be the Bears' fourth consecutive regional final.

Washington plays in the other semifinal against second-seeded Nebraska after the Bear-Gopher tilt on Friday. The winners of the matches will square off in the Seattle Regional Final on Saturday at 6 p.m. with a bid to the final four on the line.

Feller's team last advanced to the final four in 2007 with an upset victory over Nebraska.


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

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