Cal Advances to NCAA Championship Match with Sweep of USC

Tarah Murrey plays the role of Achilles in the Trojan's swift demise.

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Before the Cal-USC national semifinal match on Thursday, ESPN analyst Karch Kiraly suggested that the Trojans might have the best outside hitter tandem in the country.

Kiraly might want to rethink that statement after the Bears' outside hitters, Tarah Murrey and Adrienne Gehan, combined for 37 kills - five more than the entire USC squad - in the Cal volleyball team's straight set tour de force (25-14, 25-17, 25-20) at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The seventh-seeded Bears, still yet to drop a set in the NCAA tournament, will face three-time defending national champion Penn State in the title match on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

"That was pretty efficient volleyball on our side of the net," Cal coach Rich Feller, the AVCA National Coach of the Year, said. "This team was well prepared and they were very calm ... I couldn't be more proud of the way they executed the game plan and played their positions perfectly."

Murrey was practically unstoppable, finishing with 23 kills and a .413 hitting percentage. After logging only two kills in the opening set, the junior dominated the rest of the match.

Six of the first 12 points of the second set came from the hands of Murrey. USC (29-5) opened the frame with consecutive points, but the first team AVCA All-American responded with kills on four of the next five points to give the Bears (30-3) the lead.

It did not matter where fellow first team All-American Carli Lloyd (the only setter on the first team) set Murrey the ball. 

Whether Murrey was shooting lasers with pinpoint accuracy from the outside, slamming down deflections with authority from the middle or swooping in from the back row for a lethal aerial assault, the Trojans were helpless in preventing the ball from hitting the floor.

"We really scouted the team and the way that they block, the way they set up their defense," Murrey said. "When Carli gives me a good set, then I'm going to go up and be aggressive and kill it."

Gehan was equally efficient in the second and third sets, registering 12 of her 14 kills in the final two frames. The freshman, who came into the contest with a .211 season hitting percentage, attacked at a .393 rate.

"She amazes me every single time, every play and she works so hard," Murrey said of her teammate. "I know there's only greatness coming out of her."

Despite the pair's offensive outpouring in the latter two sets, Cal was even more dominant in the first set.

The Bears, led by AVCA National Coach of the Year Rich Feller, jumped off to an 11-2 lead and sustained a roughly 10-point lead for the remainder of the frame - and it was due to the squad's defense.

Cal recorded 15 digs and four blocks in the set, and held the Trojans to a negative hitting percentage (-.027).

USC's outside hitter tandem of Alex Jupiter and Falyn Fonoimoana did not live up to Kiraly's prematch billing. The pair combined for 78 kills in the Trojans' two regular season victories over the Bears but put forth a rather anemic offensive performance on Thursday.

"I feel that they came with some things we didn't really expect," said Jupiter who managed just eight kills, "Things like triple block in the middles and things like that that we might not have thought about and focused on before the game."

Fonoimoana, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, had more errors (11) than kills (six) and finished with a -.147 hitting percentage.

Now that Cal has exacted revenge on USC, it has a chance to do the same against fourth-seeded Penn State in the championship match. The Nittany Lions (31-5) knocked the Bears out of the tournament the last three years - in the national semifinal in 2007 and in the regional final in 2008 and 2009.

"Whenever we saw the brackets come out a couple weeks ago and we saw that Penn State was on the opposite side, we were not relieved," Lloyd said, "but we were excited because when we did meet them, it would be in the finals."

"I'm really, really excited to match up with them."

The match will be broadcast on ESPN2 and available at


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

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