Cal Sweeps Into Final Four

The Bears stifle the surging Huskies in the NCAA Regional Finals.

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SEATTLE, Wash. - Washington's Becky Perry soared into the air to attempt a kill but the ball lost steam as soon as it hit the outstretched arms of Cal's Carli Lloyd and Kat Brown.

It slid back over to the Huskies' side, skidded across the net and landed with a thud on the opposite side of the court.

Just like the ball, which cruised along the net before reaching its floor fate, the seventh-seeded Cal volleyball team cruised in its elite eight contest on Saturday night to reach its own destiny: the final four of the NCAA tournament.

"I don't really have a specific word to describe how it feels to be in the final four," junior outside hitter Tarah Murrey said, "but it's amazing."

The Bears' emphatic block in the final frame was not necessarily a turning point in their straight set triumph (25-21, 25-20, 25-14). It was, however, one of the many instances that quieted the usually boisterous crowd at Washington's own Hec Edmundson Pavilion in Seattle, Wash.

"I feel like at times, it was so loud it became silent," said Murrey, whose team-high 15 kills each had a silencer attached.

"We were so focused ... I really honestly did not hear that crowd."

Perhaps even more so, the block symbolized the Pac-10 champion's dominance on the defensive end, and that no matter how or where or when or even which Cal players hit the ball, it always seemed to land on the cold, hard ground on Washington's side of the net.

"Their defense ... They were getting in the way of everything," Huskies' setter Jenna Hagglund said. "They were just frustrating, and that's the sign of a great team."

The Bears (29-3) finished with nine blocks, four of which were solo.

Their digging was equally impressive. Cal's 54 digs exceeded Washington's total by 15.

Libero Robin Rostratter logged 16 and Murrey notched 12.

"Our blocking started to slow things down and channel a little bit more, and some of the digging was just incredi-digs," Bears' coach Rich Feller said. "Robin was just popping balls up that had been kills a moment earlier, and they went up to Carli, and Carli had a good set out of it."

The excellence in digging and passing led to a .364 hitting percentage. Quarterbacking that offense was Lloyd, who was named most outstanding player of the Seattle regional after posting 40 assists, eight digs and four blocks in the match.

Also making the All-Region team from Cal were Murrey and sophomore middle hitter Shannon Hawari.

The two each had a pair of kills amidst a 5-0 run that tied the match in the middle of the first set. Minutes later, a 7-1 Bears' streak put them up for good in the opening frame.

The second set was likewise close until Cal took over mid-way though. The final frame was no contest. The Bears held the Huskies (24-9) to a .000 hitting percentage in the set.

"That was an unbelievable display of hard work and teamwork by every single person out there. We just got better and better and better," Feller said. "From my bench, it was really fun to watch."

The victory marked Cal's third win over Washington this season. The Bears, the only squad that has yet to drop a set in the tournament thus far, hope the third time is the charm in the final four, where they will face Pac-10 foe USC.

The Trojans defeated Cal twice during the regular season, but their 6 p.m., matchup on Thursday will be for a spot in the title match.

The other national semifinal at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., will pit three-time defending champion Penn State against Texas.

"Zero-zero," Feller said. "It's a new season."


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

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